Using Low-Rate Flow Periodicities for Anomaly Detection: Extended

Bartlett, Genevieve and Heidemann, John and Papadopoulos, Christos
USC/Information Sciences Institute


Genevieve Bartlett, John Heidemann and Christos Papadopoulos 2009. Using Low-Rate Flow Periodicities for Anomaly Detection: Extended. Technical Report ISI-TR-2009-661. USC/Information Sciences Institute. [PDF]


As desktops and servers become more complicated, they employ an increasing amount of automatic, non-user initiated communication. Such communication can be good (OS updates, RSS feed readers, and mail polling), bad (keyloggers, spyware, and botnet command-and-control), or ugly (adware or unauthorized peer-to-peer applications). Communication in these applications is often periodic but infrequent, perhaps every few minutes to few hours. This infrequent communication and the complexity of today’s systems makes these applications difficult for users to detect and diagnose. We show that there are several classes of applications that show low-rate periodicity and demonstrate that they are widely deployed on public networks. In this paper we present a new approach to identify changes in low-rate periodic network traffic. We employ signal-processing techniques, using discrete wavelets implemented as a fully decomposed, iterated filter bank. This approach allows us to cover a large range of low-rate periodicities, from seconds to hours, and to identify approximate times when traffic changed. Network administrators and users can use our techniques for network- or self-surveillance. To measure the effectiveness of our approach, we show that it can detect changes in periodic behavior caused by events such as installation of keyloggers, an interruption in OS update checks, or the P2P application BitTorrent. We quantify the sensitivity of our approach, showing that we can find periodic traffic when it is at least 5–10% of overall traffic.


  author = {Bartlett, Genevieve and Heidemann, John and Papadopoulos, Christos},
  title = {Using Low-Rate Flow Periodicities for Anomaly
                    Detection: Extended},
  institution = {USC/Information Sciences Institute},
  year = {2009},
  sortdate = {2009-08-01},
  number = {ISI-TR-2009-661},
  month = aug,
  keywords = {low-rate periodic detection, wavelet, traffic},
  project = {ant, lander, madcat},
  jsubject = {spectral_network},
  jlocation = {johnh: pafile},
  url = {},
  pdfurl = {},
  otherurl = {},
  myorganization = {USC/Information Sciences Institute},
  copyrightholder = {authors}