An Algorithm to Find Optimal Attack Paths in Nondeterministic Scenarios

An Algorithm to Find Optimal Attack Paths in Nondeterministic Scenarios

Friday, October 21, 2011
Carlos Sarraute, Gerardo Richarte, Jorge Lucangeli Obes
ACM CCS Conference 2011

As penetration testing frameworks have evolved and have become more complex, the problem of controlling automatically the pen testing tool has become an important question. This can be naturally addressed as an attack planning problem. Previous approaches to this problem were based on modeling the actions and assets in the PDDL language, and using off-the-shelf AI tools to generate attack plans. These approaches however are limited. In particular, the planning is classical (the actions are deterministic) and thus not able to handle the uncertainty involved in this form of attack planning.

We herein contribute a planning model that does capture the uncertainty about the results of the actions, which is modeled as a probability of success of each action. We present efficient planning algorithms, specifically designed for this problem, that achieve industrial-scale runtime performance
(able to solve scenarios with several hundred hosts and exploits). These algorithms take into account the probability of success of the actions and their expected cost (for example in terms of execution time, or network traffic generated).

We thus show that probabilistic attack planning can be solved efficiently for the scenarios that arise when assessing the security of large networks. Two "primitives'' are presented, which are used as building blocks in a framework separating the overall problem into two levels of abstraction. We also present the experimental results obtained with our implementation, and conclude with some ideas for further work.