CEC Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2017

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Information Assurance (DIA)

Department

College of Engineering and Computing

Advisor

Francisco J. Mitropoulos

Committee Member

James D. Cannady

Committee Member

Matthew Tennyson

Abstract

In many forensic investigations, questions linger regarding the identity of the authors of the software specimen. Research has identified methods for the attribution of binary files that have not been obfuscated, but a significant percentage of malicious software has been obfuscated in an effort to hide both the details of its origin and its true intent. Little research has been done around analyzing obfuscated code for attribution. In part, the reason for this gap in the research is that deobfuscation of an unknown program is a challenging task. Further, the additional transformation of the executable file introduced by the obfuscator modifies or removes features from the original executable that would have been used in the author attribution process. Existing research has demonstrated good success in attributing the authorship of an executable file of unknown provenance using methods based on static analysis of the specimen file. With the addition of file obfuscation, static analysis of files becomes difficult, time consuming, and in some cases, may lead to inaccurate findings. This paper presents a novel process for authorship attribution using dynamic analysis methods. A software emulated system was fully instrumented to become a test harness for a specimen of unknown provenance, allowing for supervised control, monitoring, and trace data collection during execution. This trace data was used as input into a supervised machine learning algorithm trained to identify stylometric differences in the specimen under test and provide predictions on who wrote the specimen. The specimen files were also analyzed for authorship using static analysis methods to compare prediction accuracies with prediction accuracies gathered from this new, dynamic analysis based method. Experiments indicate that this new method can provide better accuracy of author attribution for files of unknown provenance, especially in the case where the specimen file has been obfuscated.

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