Date of Award

2015

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Computer and Security Science

Faculty

Faculty of Health, Engineering and Science

First Advisor

Associate Professor Philip Hingston

Second Advisor

Associate Professor C. Peng Lam

Abstract

With the enormous growth of users' reliance on the Internet, the need for secure and reliable computer networks also increases. Availability of effective automatic tools for carrying out different types of network attacks raises the need for effective intrusion detection systems.

Generally, a comprehensive defence mechanism consists of three phases, namely, preparation, detection and reaction. In the preparation phase, network administrators aim to find and fix security vulnerabilities (e.g., insecure protocol and vulnerable computer systems or firewalls), that can be exploited to launch attacks. Although the preparation phase increases the level of security in a network, this will never completely remove the threat of network attacks. A good security mechanism requires an Intrusion Detection System (IDS) in order to monitor security breaches when the prevention schemes in the preparation phase are bypassed. To be able to react to network attacks as fast as possible, an automatic detection system is of paramount importance. The later an attack is detected, the less time network administrators have to update their signatures and reconfigure their detection and remediation systems. An IDS is a tool for monitoring the system with the aim of detecting and alerting intrusive activities in networks. These tools are classified into two major categories of signature-based and anomaly-based. A signature-based IDS stores the signature of known attacks in a database and discovers occurrences of attacks by monitoring and comparing each communication in the network against the database of signatures. On the other hand, mechanisms that deploy anomaly detection have a model of normal behaviour of system and any significant deviation from this model is reported as anomaly.

This thesis aims at addressing the major issues in the process of developing signature based IDSs. These are: i) their dependency on experts to create signatures, ii) the complexity of their models, iii) the inflexibility of their models, and iv) their inability to adapt to the changes in the real environment and detect new attacks. To meet the requirements of a good IDS, computational intelligence methods have attracted considerable interest from the research community.

This thesis explores a solution to automatically generate compact rulesets for network intrusion detection utilising evolutionary computation techniques. The proposed framework is called ESR-NID (Evolving Statistical Rulesets for Network Intrusion Detection). Using an interval-based structure, this method can be deployed for any continuous-valued input data. Therefore, by choosing appropriate statistical measures (i.e. continuous-valued features) of network trafc as the input to ESRNID, it can effectively detect varied types of attacks since it is not dependent on the signatures of network packets.

In ESR-NID, several innovations in the genetic algorithm were developed to keep the ruleset small. A two-stage evaluation component in the evolutionary process takes the cooperation of rules into consideration and results into very compact, easily understood rulesets. The effectiveness of this approach is evaluated against several sources of data for both detection of normal and abnormal behaviour. The results are found to be comparable to those achieved using other machine learning methods from both categories of GA-based and non-GA-based methods. One of the significant advantages of ESR-NIS is that it can be tailored to specific problem domains and the characteristics of the dataset by the use of different fitness and performance functions. This makes the system a more flexible model compared to other learning techniques. Additionally, an IDS must adapt itself to the changing environment with the least amount of configurations. ESR-NID uses an incremental learning approach as new flow of traffic become available. The incremental learning approach benefits from less required storage because it only keeps the generated rules in its database. This is in contrast to the infinitely growing size of repository of raw training data required for traditional learning.

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