Final Report:

 Adaptive Knowledge-Based Monitoring
 for Information Assurance




Sponsor: DARPA; Air Force Research Laboratory, Contract Number F30602-99-1-0509


Dates:    5/11/1999-7/10/2003 (including a no-cost extension)


Report submitted:         5/17/2004




Monitoring tasks play a central role in information assurance, because it is difficult to respond to attacks one cannot detect.  Ensuring effective monitoring is difficult, however, because the threats to which IA monitoring systems must respond evolve continually in the never-ending competition between adversaries and defenders.  These changing threats pose important problems for the cost and technological requirements for responding.


Current techniques for building and deploying monitoring systems rely mostly on human analysis of the structures, tasks and vulnerabilities of each enclave and on the customized construction and configuration of monitoring tools by local security personnel.  These are difficult and time-consuming tasks, and in the absence of formalization of their results, the lessons learned in each enclave are not easily transferred to other enclaves or situation.  In addition, competition with adversaries continues to ratchet up the sophistication of attacks and therefore the need to deploy more wide-scale, quickly responding semi-automated defenses.


Our proposal, work on which commenced in May 1999, planned to address these challenges by focusing on the following technical problems.  We also planned to address solutions to these at several scales, ranging from the monitoring tasks supervised by an individual security officer or analyst to larger scales eventually encompassing the NII community.





The purpose of this project was to develop enhanced technical approaches to providing improved Information Assurance and to contribute to the DARPA Cyber Command and Control (CC2) effort.  Our research group had begun, under the earlier DARPA High Performance Knowledge Bases (HPKB) program, to define and build a general knowledge-based monitoring architecture called MAITA (Monitoring, Analysis and Interpretation Tool Arsenal).  With support from the current project we pursued the objectives listed below.  Rather than trying to summarize all of the research results achieved for these objectives in this report, we cite the publications that report them and refer the interested reader there.  They are also included as appendices to this report.


  1. We further developed the design and implementation of our monitoring architecture, recognized that it was developing into a sophisticated high-level distributed operating system, and enhanced its self-monitoring, checkpoint and automatic restart capabilities.  The final version of the design document is:
    Jon Doyle, Isaac Kohane, William Long, and Peter Szolovits, "The Architecture of MAITA: A Tool For Monitoring, Analysis, and Interpretation", MIT CSAIL Technical Report, Cambridge, MA 02139, March 2004.  The report is also available on the Web at

  2. We applied the architecture to problems of monitoring data relevant to detecting potential intrusions into our own computer systems and began to explore its application to realistic simulation data produced near the end of the CC2 project by Lincoln Laboratories.  The final version of the implementation is available at
    Please refer to
    for pointers on how to install and use the programs.
    We also described the application of our methods to the CC2 problem in the following publications:

    1. Jon Doyle, Isaac Kohane, William Long, Howard Shrobe, Peter Szolovits.  (2001). Event Recognition Beyond Signature and Anomaly. IEEE-SMC Workshop on Information Assurance and Security, West Point, NY, June 5-6, 2001.
    2. Jon Doyle, Isaac Kohane, William Long, Howard Shrobe, and Peter Szolovits, "Agile Monitoring for Cyber Defense", Second DARPA Information Survivability Conference and Exposition (DISCEX-II), Anaheim, California, June 12-14, 2001
    3. William J. Long, Jon Doyle, Glenn Burke, Peter Szolovits. (2003). Detection of intrusion across multiple sensors. SPIE Signals and Image Processing Conference.


We conducted research on a number of fundamental problems that we had identified as critical to making further progress in this domain.  These included:


  1. Michael McGeachie, under the supervision of Dr. Jon Doyle, developed as part of his Master's thesis a method of allowing users to specify their preferences, all other things being equal, and automatically turning these into a classical utility function that is consistent with the user's preferences.  Mike's Master's thesis is
    Michael McGeachie.  "Utility Functions for Ceteris Paribus Preferences", Masters Thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2002.  It is available at
    Other publications based on this work include:
    McGeachie, M. (2001) "Utility Function for Autonomous Agent Control," MIT Student Oxygen Workshop. (
    Michael McGeachie and Jon Doyle "Utility Functions for Ceteris Paribus Preferences" AAAI First Workshop on Preferences in AI, Edmonton, Alberta (2002). (
    Michael McGeachie and Jon Doyle. "Efficient Utility Functions for Ceteris Paribus Preferences."   AAAI Eighteenth National Conference on Artificial Intelligence, Edmonton, Alberta (2002). (
    Michael McGeachie and Jon Doyle.  Utility Functions for Ceteris Paribus Preferences.  Computational Intelligence, 20:2:158-217, May 2004.


  1. Mary DeSouza, supervised by Prof. Szolovits, developed an optimized method of matching trend templates (which describe temporal and inter-signal patterns of interest) against data arriving in real time.  This improved both the speed and accuracy of the trend template matcher earlier developed by Dr. Ira Haimowitz.  The thesis is available as:
    Mary T. DeSouza, "Automated Medical Trend Detection", MIT M.Eng. thesis, May 2000. (


  1. Stephen Bull, as part of his Master's thesis, devised a modified language for expressing trend templates that permits more efficient matching without significantly reducing the expressiveness of the templates that can be defined.  Its principal contribution was to reduce the amount of search needed to find the best time point at which to end one temporal segment of a template and begin the next.  The thesis is:
    Bull, Stephen M. "Diagnostic Process Monitoring with Temporally Uncertain Models."  MIT EECS Master of Engineering Thesis, May 2002.


  1. Dr. William Long created a new pre-processing method that segments time into successive periods during which all changing time-oriented signals can be reasonably approximated by a linear relationship.  This algorithm processes a continuous stream of data by fitting a regression line to the data and comparing that to the fit of two lines connected at the optimum point.  If the two segments are better, the last segment is used for making decisions about the data that follows.  The criteria for deciding which is the better fit can be arbitrary, including factors such as the characteristics of other data streams and the probability of a change in slope.  The technique is generalizable to other alternate hypotheses such as single point outliers and constant shifts of the regression line.   The current version of the paper is available as:
    William Long, "Real-Time Trend Detection Using Segmental Linear Regression".


  1. Dr. Christine Tsien developed, as part of her PhD thesis, a method of deriving "interesting" temporal patterns using more conventional machine learning techniques.  In contrast with more knowledge-based methods, she encoded a large variety of signals derived from raw data by smoothing, trending and temporal analysis methods, and allowed the machine learning methods to choose which of these derived signals most accurately predicted the desired interpretations of the signals.  Her doctoral thesis is:
    Christine L. Tsien, "TrendFinder: Automated Detection of Alarmable Trends, MIT Ph.D. dissertation, April 2000.
    Other papers reporting aspects of this work are:

    Tsien CL, Kohane IS, McIntosh N. Building ICU artifact detection models with more data in less time. Proc AMIA Symp 2001:706-10.

    Zhang Y, Tsien CL.
    Prospective Trials of Intelligent Alarm Algorithms for Patient Monitoring.  Proc AMIA Symp 2001:1068.

    Tsien CL, Kohane IS, McIntosh N. Multiple signal integration by decision tree induction to detect artifacts in the neonatal intensive care unit. Artif Intell Med 2000;19(3):189-202.
    (on-line version not currently available)

    Tsien CL. Event discovery in medical time-series data. Proc AMIA Symp 2000:858-62.
  2. Ying Zhang, as part of her Master's thesis, adapted Dr. Tsien's techniques to learning in real time.  One major advantage of this enhancement is that a monitor can issue alarms even as it is being trained.  Therefore, it becomes much easier to diagnose false alarms, because they are announced in real time as data are being collected and human sources are able to interpret the context in which the algorithm may have been misled.  The thesis is at:
    Zhang Y.  "Real-Time Analysis of Physiological Data and Development of Alarm Algorithms for Patient Monitoring in the Intensive Care Unit."  MIT EECS Master of Engineering Thesis, Aug 2003.


  1. Joseph Hastings developed a new model of computer system behavior that assumes that system calls are generated by a number of Markov processes that alternately control the system.  Building on earlier research by Dr. Marco Ramoni, he implemented a system that, in real time, learns the relevant Markov processes and can recognize aberrant behavior that is inconsistent with the processes so far learned.
    Hastings JR. "Incremental Bayesian Segmentation for Intrusion Detection." [M.Eng.]. Cambridge, MA: MIT; 2003.


  1. Dr. Howard Shrobe developed a technique called Computational Vulnerabilty Analysis that is useful in deducing that plans that a potential attacker might use.  The attack plans developed by Computational Vulnerability Analysis can be directly converted into Trend Templates for use in attack plan recognition.  In contract to most other approaches to vulnerability analysis, this system works from first principles: Given a model of the computational and networking environment, it generates multi-step complex plans for compromising specific (or generic) resources in the environment.  It does this by a careful analysis of the "control", "input" and "output" relationships that exist within individual computer systems and between systems in a larger networked environment.  For example, it reasons that since the scheduler of a computer system controls the performance of an application running on that system, it then follows that an attacker interested in adversely affecting performance might try to gain control of the scheduler.  It similarly reasons that since one way to control any component is to modify its inputs, then the attacker might try to compromise the scheduler by compromising its parameter file. Ultimately, any of these attacks must exploit some vulnerability of the system using a generic attack form (e.g. exploiting a "bounds check" vulnerability by launching a buffer overflow attack); thus the technique does not rely on detailed knowledge of any particular virus or worm and is much more general than would be a catalog of known exploits.