The user attribution problem and the challenge of persistent surveillance of user activity in complex networks

Claudio Taglienti, James Cannady
2016 Journal of Computer Security  
In the context of telecommunication networks, the user attribution problem refers to the challenge faced in recognizing communication traffic as belonging to a given user when information needed to identify the user is missing. This is analogous to trying to recognize a nameless face in a crowd. This problem worsens as users move across many mobile networks (complex networks) owned and operated by different providers. The traditional approach of using the source IP address, which indicates
more » ... a packet comes from, does not work when used to identify mobile users. Recent efforts to address this problem by exclusively relying on web browsing behavior to identify users were limited to a small number of users (28 and 100 users). This was due to the inability of solutions to link up multiple user sessions together when they rely exclusively on the web sites visited by the user. This study has tackled this problem by utilizing behavior based identification while accounting for time and the sequential order of web visits by a user. Hierarchical Temporal Memories (HTM) were used to classify historical navigational patterns for different users. Each layer of an HTM contains variable order Markov chains of connected nodes which represent clusters of web sites visited in time order by the user (user sessions). HTM layers enable inference "generalization" by linking Markov chains within and across layers and thus allow matching longer sequences of visited web sites (multiple user sessions). This approach enables linking multiple user sessions together without the need for a tracking identifier such as the source IP address. Results are promising. HTMs can provide high levels of accuracy using synthetic data with 99% recall accuracy for up to 500 users and good levels of recall accuracy of 95 % and 87% for 5 and 10 users respectively when using cellular network data. This research confirmed that the presence of long tail web sites (rarely visited) among many repeated destinations can create unique differentiation. What was not anticipated prior to this research was the very high degree of repetitiveness of some web destinations found in real network data.
doi:10.3233/jcs-160546 fatcat:csumqyxqqvhwncgklmrxukhizq