The NCC Results (May 2009 - May 2010)


The CINBAD (CERN Investigation of Network Behaviour and Anomaly Detection) project was launched in 2007 in collaboration with HP ProCurve. This challenging project’s mission is to understand the behaviour of large computer networks in the context of high-performance computing and campus installations such as CERN. CERN’s campus network has more than 50 000 active user devices interconnected by 10 000 km of cables and fibres, with more than 2500 switches and routers. The potential 4.8 terabit per second throughput within the network core and 140 gigabit per second connectivity to external networks offer countless possibilities to different network applications. The CINBAD goals are to detect traffic anomalies in such systems, perform trend analysis, automatically take counter-measures and provide post-mortem analysis facilities. The project is divided into three phases: data collection and network management, data analysis and algorithm development, performance and scalability analysis. This research activity is now producing practical results as well as providing crucial information to the CERN security team.


The starting point of the project was to define the requirements and ensure a common framework of precise definitions, for example, what constitutes an anomaly or a trend. The following common denominator emerged: an anomaly is always a deviation of the system from the normal (expected) behaviour (baseline); the normal behaviour (baseline) is never stationary and anomalies are not always easy to define. As a consequence, anomalies are not easy to detect. However, some potential anomaly detectors can be identified. Thus the use of statistical detection methods can be considered. By learning the ‘normal behaviour’ from network measurements, and continuously updating the ‘normal baseline’, it is possible to detect new, unknown anomalies. Applying such a method also has some drawbacks as it is still possible to attempt to force a false negative, the selection of suitable input variables is an issue (many anomalies being within ‘normal’ bounds of the metrics), and finally a false positive can be extremely costly and does not provide a satisfactory anomaly type identification.

With the modern high-speed networks it is impossible to monitor all the packets traversing the links. sFlow is the industry standard for monitoring computer networks by means of random packet sampling. In fact sFlow is derived from the collaboration between HP, the University of Geneva and CERN in 1991. The team decided that the best way to monitor the network on a large scale was to use data statistical analysis by packet sampling. In the first phase of the project the CINBAD team investigated the feasibility of packet sampling in the context of anomaly detection. The results of this research were published at the end of 2007 in a report ‘Packet Sampling for Network Monitoring’, by Milosz Hulbój and Ryszard Jurga.

These studies, complemented by an in-depth analysis of the sFlow agents, enabled the CINBAD team to design and implement the sFlow data collector. Given the huge amount of sFlow data (300 000 samples per second) to be collected and analysed, the team decided to benefit from CERN’s know-how in data storage and analysis. During the survey on data acquisition, the LHC experiments and Oracle experts were consulted on high-performance data storage, data format and representation and analysis principles. This survey led the team to the design of the multi-stage sFlow collector (see figure below) and to implement it. Since summer 2008, the collection system has been successfully running on a large-scale network, using approximately 1000 HP switches.


The team developed tools for analysing the stored data based on these data collection tests results. Various data analysis techniques have been tested, among them a statistical data analysis and time series mining and signature based approach. In addition to these tools, the team adapted SNORT (open source network intrusion prevention and detection system) to work with sampled sFlow data. This SNORT setup was complemented by open source traffic rules as well as in-house CINBAD rules. Initial data analysis has enabled the team to detect some misbehaviour and a certain number of anomalies in the CERN network. It appears that most of these security anomalies (malicious software, policy violations) originated from end-user machines.

CINBAD tools allow for easy identification of the anomalous hosts via analysis of the network parameters’ entropy.

Over the past few years, the CINBAD team has collected and analysed more than 30 terabytes of data in order to investigate various approaches to enhancements for Network Monitoring and Anomaly Detection. Now, the CINBAD project is turning into the production stage and is delivering more and more new facilities. The current CINBAD toolkit (C-Eye) enables one to visualise detailed information on the actual state of the network at any point in time. This new facility improves day-to-day network operations as well as reducing the time needed to diagnose network problems, since detailed information about the activity of each machine is available. The trend analysis tool provides metrics about evolution of the CERN network. Information about the number of active devices, network infrastructure usage, protocol distribution as well as other network statistics constitutes valuable input to the future design. In addition, the team is delivering a tool that enables one to browse the alerts from the CINBAD anomaly detection engine as well as identify their causes. All the aforementioned tools have already proved to be useful in resolving problems, including printer abusers, spammers and non-legitimate network scans. However, even though the project is entering the final stage, the team is continuously searching for, and identifying, new enhancement possibilities.

CINBAD tools for network operation (C-Eye) are being currently integrated into the network management platform at CERN.

At the end of March, the CINBAD team visited the HP ProCurve group in Roseville, USA. The main goal of this visit was to present and discuss the latest results and transfer the knowledge that was gathered during the course of the project. CINBAD ideas, tools and algorithms were very well received by people from different groups of ProCurve. HP is considering integrating some of them into their products. This, together with the ongoing deployment and integration at CERN is clear evidence of the project’s success.

Since February 2010, a new openlab team under the codename WIND (Wireless Infrastructure Network Deployment) carries out research and provides new algorithms, guidelines and solutions to support the deployment and operation of the Wi-Fi infrastructure at CERN. More information on this new project are available in the WIND section.