Detecting Malware Domains at the Upper DNS Hierarchy

Manos Antonakakis, Roberto Perdisci, Wenke Lee, Nikolaos Vasiloglou II, David Dagon
USENIX Security Symposium

In recent years Internet miscreants have been leveraging the DNS to build malicious network infrastructures for malware command and control. In this paper we propose a novel detection system called Kopis for detecting malware-related domain names. Kopis passively monitors DNS traffic at the upper levels of the DNS hierarchy, and is able to accurately detect malware domains by analyzing global DNS query resolution patterns.

Compared to previous DNS reputation systems such as Notos [3] and Exposure [4], which rely on monitoring traffic from local recursive DNS servers, Kopis offers a new vantage point and introduces new traffic features specifically chosen to leverage the global visibility obtained by monitoring network traffic at the upper DNS hierarchy. Unlike previous work Kopis enables DNS operators to independently (i.e., without the need of data from other networks) detect malware domains within their authority, so that action can be taken to stop the abuse. Moreover, unlike previous work, Kopis can detect malware domains even when no IP reputation information is available.

We developed a proof-of-concept version of Kopis, and experimented with eight months of real-world data. Our experimental results show that Kopis can achieve high detection rates (e.g., 98.4%) and low false positive rates (e.g., 0.3% or 0.5%). In addition Kopis is able to detect new malware domains days or even weeks before they appear in public blacklists and security forums, and allowed us to discover the rise of a previously unknown DDoS botnet based in China.