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P2P malware detection techniques

The amount of malware using peer-to-peer communications has increased dramatically. Enterprise threats expert Nick Lewis explains how to detect P2P malware.

Security vendor Damballa has reported a significant increase in malware using P2P communications, which is difficult for enterprises to spot using typical network detection methods. Could you provide some network detection techniques that are effective against malicious P2P traffic?

There has been a significant increase in malware using P2P communications, but at the same time there has also been an increase in the overall number of network applications that are using P2P communications. This increase in P2P malware could be attributed to difficulties with firewalls, bandwidth concerns for central nodes or distrust of centralized communications. Many applications have opted to use P2P communications for host-to-host communications after the other host is identified via a central node, fast-flux domain name, broadcast or scanning. Due to the increased popularity in this, malware has inevitably evolved to also utilize these techniques.

P2P communications technology has been around since at least 1998. It was first used by Skype for voice calls, but Skype also relied on supernodes to find other peers. Connecting to a supernode, fast-flux domain or scanning can make the malware easier to analyze from the network perspective because endpoints don't typically contact a large number of external systems, which helps identify the malicious network activity.

Effective network detection techniques against malicious P2P traffic have been around since network appliances were introduced to combat malware. These include network traffic shapers like Packeteer, antimalware network appliances like Actiance andnext-generation firewalls like Palo Alto. Most of the network tools have fingerprinted the network signatures of the network or use anomaly detection to identify connections that look suspicious.

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This was last published in July 2014

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