Date of Award

Spring 3-2018

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Computer Science

First Advisor

Dr. Joshua J. Pauli

Second Advisor

Dr. Wayne E. Pauli

Third Advisor

Dr. Joshua A. Stroschein

Abstract

Computer security incident response is a critical capability in light of the growing threat of malware infecting endpoint systems today. Ransomware is one type of malware that is causing increasing harm to organizations. Ransomware infects an endpoint system by encrypting files until a ransom is paid. Ransomware can have a negative impact on an organization’s daily functions if critical business files are encrypted and are not backed up properly.

Many tools exist that claim to detect and respond to malware. Organizations and small businesses are often short-staffed and lack the technical expertise to properly configure security tools. One such endpoint detection tool is Sysmon, which logs critical events to the Windows event log. Sysmon is free to download on the Internet. The details contained in Sysmon events can be extremely helpful during an incident response. The author of Sysmon states that the Sysmon configuration needs be iteratively assessed to determine which Sysmon events are most effective. Unfortunately, an organization may not have the time, knowledge, or infrastructure to properly configure and analyze Sysmon events. If configured incorrectly, the organization may have a false sense of security or lack the logs necessary to respond quickly and accurately during a malware incident.

This research seeks to answer the question “What methodology can an organization follow to determine which Sysmon events should be analyzed to identify ransomware in a Windows environment?” The answer to this question helps organizations make informed decisions regarding how to configure Sysmon and analyze Sysmon logs. This study uses design science research methods to create three artifacts: a method, an instantiation, and a tool. The artifacts are used to analyze Sysmon logs against a ransomware dataset consisting of publicly available samples from three ransomware families that were major threats in 2017 according to Symantec. The artifacts are built using software that is free to download on the Internet. Step-by-step instructions, source code, and configuration files are provided so that other researchers can replicate and expand on the results. The end goal provides concrete results that organizations can apply directly to their environment to begin leveraging the benefits of Sysmon and understand the analytics needed to identify suspicious activity during an incident response.

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