Virtual Playgrounds for Worm Behavior Investigation

Project Overview

To detect and defend against Internet worms, researchers have long hoped to have a safe convenient environment to unleash and run real-world worms for close observation of their infection, damage, and propagation. However, major challenges exist in realizing such ``worm playgrounds'', including the playgrounds' fidelity, confinement, scalability, as well as convenience in worm experiments.

In this project, we present a virtualization-based platform to create virtual worm playgrounds, called vGrounds, on top of a physical infrastructure. A vGround is an all-software virtual environment dynamically created for a worm attack. It has realistic end-hosts and network entities, all realized as virtual machines (VMs) and confined in a virtual network (VN). The salient features of vGround include: (1) high fidelity supporting real worm codes exploiting real vulnerable services, (2) strict confinement making the real Internet totally invisible and unreachable from inside a vGround, (3) high resource efficiency achieving sufficiently large scale of worm experiments, and (4) flexible and efficient worm experiment control enabling fast (tens of seconds) and automatic generation, re-installation, and final tear-down of vGrounds. Our experiments with real-world worms (including multi-vector worms and polymorphic worms) have successfully exhibited their probing and propagation patterns, exploitation steps, and malicious payloads, demonstrating the value of vGrounds for worm detection and defense research.