Date of Award

6-2016

Degree Name

MS in Computer Science

Department

Computer Science

Advisor

Foaad Khosmood

Abstract

The internet has matured into the focal point of our era. Its ecosystem is vast, complex, and in many regards unaccounted for. One of the most prevalent aspects of the internet is spam. Similar to the rest of the internet, spam has evolved from simply meaning ‘unwanted emails’ to a blanket term that encompasses any unsolicited or illegitimate content that appears in the wide range of media that exists on the internet.

Many forms of spam permeate the internet, and spam architects continue to develop tools and methods to avoid detection. On the other side, cyber security engineers continue to develop more sophisticated detection tools to curb the harmful effects that come with spam. This virtual arms race has no end in sight. Most efforts thus far have been toward accurately detecting spam from ham, and rightfully so since initial detection is essential. However, research is lacking in understanding the current ecosystem of spam, spam campaigns, and the behavior of the botnets that drive the majority of spam traffic.

This thesis focuses on characterizing spam, particularly the spam that appears in forums, where the spam is delivered by bots posing as legitimate users. Forum spam is used primarily to push advertisements or to boost other websites’ perceived popularity by including HTTP links in the content of the post. We conduct an experiment to collect a sample of the blog posts and network activity of the spambots that exist in the internet. We then present a corpora available to conduct analysis on and proceed with our own analysis. We cluster associated groups of users and IP addresses into entities, which we accept as a model of the underlying botnets that interact with our honeypots. We use Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) to determine that creating semantic-based models of botnets are sufficient for distinguishing them from one another. We also find that the syntactic structure of posts has little variation from botnet to botnet. Finally we confirm that to a large degree botnet behavior and content hold across different domains.

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