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Network-Based Spam Filtering Nick Feamster Georgia Tech Joint work with Anirudh Ramachandran and Santosh Vempala.

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Presentation on theme: "Network-Based Spam Filtering Nick Feamster Georgia Tech Joint work with Anirudh Ramachandran and Santosh Vempala."— Presentation transcript:

1 Network-Based Spam Filtering Nick Feamster Georgia Tech Joint work with Anirudh Ramachandran and Santosh Vempala

2 2 Spam 75-90% of all traffic –PDF Spam: ~11% and growing –Content filters cannot catch! Late 2006: there was a significant rise in spammers use of botnets, armies of PCs taken over by malware and turned into spam servers without their owners realizing it. August 2007: Botnet-based spam caused volumes to increase 53% from previous day Source: NetworkWorld, August 2007

3 3 More Than Just a Nuisance As of August 2007, one in every 87 s constituted a phishing attack Targeted attacks on the rise –20k-30k unique phishing attacks per month –Spam targeted at CEOs, social networks on the rise

4 4 One Approach: Filtering Prevent traffic from reaching users inboxes by distinguishing spam from ham Key question: What features best differentiate spam from legitimate mail? –Content –IP address of sender –Other behavioral features

5 5 Content-Based Filtering is Malleable Content-based properties are malleable –Low cost to evasion: Spammers can easily alter features of an s content can be easily adjusted and changed –Customized s are easy to generate: Content-based filters need fuzzy hashes over content, etc. –High cost to filter maintainers: Filters must be continually updated as content-changing techniques become more sophistocated Content-based filters are applied at the destination –Too little, too late: Wasted network bandwidth, storage, etc. Many users receive (and store) the same spam content

6 6 Complementary Approach: Network-Based Filtering Filter based on how it is sent, in addition to simply what is sent. Network-level properties are more fixed –Hosting or upstream ISP (AS number) –Botnet membership –Location in the network –IP address block Challenge: Which properties are most useful for distinguishing spam traffic from legitimate ? Very little (if anything) is known about these characteristics!

7 7 Two Parts Study the network-level behavior of spammers –Majority of spam comes from a very small portion of the Internet address space –Most coming from Windows hosts –Most senders low volume to our domain –Conventional blacklists somewhat ineffective Develop behavioral based filtering techniques –Behavioral blacklisting

8 8 Studying Sending Patterns Network-level properties of spam arrival –From where? What IP address space? ASes? What OSes? –What techniques? Botnets Short-lived route announcements Shady ISPs –Capabilities and limitations? Bandwidth Size of botnet army

9 9 BGP Spectrum Agility Log IP addresses of SMTP relays Join with BGP route advertisements seen at network where spam trap is co-located. A small club of persistent players appears to be using this technique. Common short-lived prefixes and ASes / / / ~ 10 minutes Somewhere between 1-10% of all spam (some clearly intentional, others might be flapping)

10 10 Why Such Big Prefixes? Flexibility: Client IPs can be scattered throughout dark space within a large /8 –Same sender usually returns with different IP addresses Visibility: Route typically wont be filtered (nice and short)

11 11 Characteristics of IP-Agile Senders IP addresses are widely distributed across the /8 space IP addresses typically appear only once at our sinkhole Depending on which /8, 60-80% of these IP addresses were not reachable by traceroute when we spot- checked Some IP addresses were in allocated, albeit unannounced space Some AS paths associated with the routes contained reserved AS numbers

12 12 Lessons for Spam Mitigation Blacklists based on IP address alone are becoming less effective –Effective spam filtering requires a better notion of end-host identity Detection based on network-widebehavior may be more fruitful than focusing on individual IPs Critical pieces of the puzzle –Botnet detection: Need better monitoring techniques –Routing security

13 13 Two Parts Study the network-level behavior of spammers –Majority of spam comes from a very small portion of the Internet address space –Most coming from Windows hosts –Most senders low volume to our domain –Conventional blacklists somewhat ineffective Develop behavioral based filtering techniques –Behavioral blacklisting

14 14 The Effectiveness of Blacklisting ~80% listed on average ~95% of bots listed in one or more blacklists Number of DNSBLs listing this spammer Only about half of the IPs spamming from short-lived BGP are listed in any blacklist Fraction of all spam received Spam from IP-agile senders tend to be listed in fewer blacklists

15 15 Incomplete and Unresonsive Incomplete: Up to 35% of spam unlisted by SpamHaus or SpamCop at time of receipt Unresponsive: 20% remained unlisted in the blacklists even after one month

16 16 Problems with Existing Blacklists Based on ephemeral identifier (IP address) –More than 10% of all spam comes from IP addresses not seen within the past two months Dynamic renumbering of IP addresses Stealing of IP addresses and IP address space Compromised machines Requires a human to first notice the behavior –Spamming is compartmentalized by domain and not analyzed across domains

17 17 Problem: Low Volumes of Spam to Any Single Domain Lifetime (seconds) Amount of Spam Most bot IP addresses send very little spam, regardless of how long they have been spamming. Single-domain observation cannot detect.

18 18 Main Idea and Intuition Idea: Blacklist sending behavior –Identify sending patterns that are commonly used by spammers Intuition: Much more difficult for a spammer to change the technique by which mail is sent than it is to change the content

19 19 SpamTracker: Behavioral Blacklisting Observe sending behavior across domains Form clusters of behavioral fingerprints of known spammers Map new IP addresses to known clusters Approach

20 20 Building the Classifier: Clustering Feature: Distribution of sending volumes across recipient domains Clustering Approach –Build initial seed list of bad IP addresses –For each IP address, compute feature vector: volume per domain per time –Collapse into a single IP x domain matrix: –Compute clusters

21 21 Clustering: Output and Fingerprint For each cluster, compute characteristic vector: New IPs will be compared to this fingerprint

22 22 Classifying New IP Addresses Given new IP address, build a feature vector based on its sending pattern across domains Compute the similarity of this sending pattern to that of each known spam cluster –Normalized dot product of the two feature vectors –Spam score is maximum similarity to any cluster

23 23 Spam Has Higher SpamTracker Score Compare spam score of known spam to that of mail that was accepted for delivery Rejected mails have higher spam scores

24 24 Deployment Options Integration with existing infrastructure –Deploy SpamTracker as yet another DNSBL –Existing spam filters use SpamTracker score as an additional feature –Advantage: easy deployment On the wire deployment –Infer connections/ from traffic flow records in individual domains –Advantage: Stop mail before it even reaches the mail server

25 25 Other Questions and Challenges Reactivity: Can the features be observed quickly enough to construct the fingerprints? Scalability: How can the data be aggregated and collected without imposing too much overhead? Reliability: How can SpamTracker be replicated to better defend against attack or failure? Sensor placement: From where should we watch spam to ensure that the clusters can be distinguished? Symbiosis between botnet detection and spam filtering

26 26 Summary Spam is on the rise and becoming more clever –12% of spam now PDF spam. Content filters are falling behind –Also becoming more targetted IP-Based blacklists are evadable –Up to 30% of spam not listed in common blacklists at receipt. ~20% remains unlisted after a month –Spammers commonly steal IP addresses New approach: Behavioral blacklisting –Blacklist how the mail was sent, not what was sent


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