Communication Network Perspective on Malware Lifecycle

Document Type Expired Internet-Draft (individual)
Author Joachim Fabini 
Last updated 2020-05-07 (latest revision 2019-11-04)
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This Internet-Draft is no longer active. A copy of the expired Internet-Draft can be found at


Today's systems, networks, and protocols are complex and include unknown vulnerabilities that adversaries can exploit. The large- scale deployment of network security protocols establishes an additional threat by implementing a substrate for hidden communications like covert or subliminal channels. The resulting ecosystem builds a convenient platform for malicious, automated software (malware) to infiltrate critical infrastructures, to gradually infect large parts of the system and to coordinate distributed malware operation. Based on the observation that malware depends on network communications to discover, propagate, coordinate, and unleash its functionality, this memo recommends methods to identify potential interfaces and interactions between malware and protocols. It proposes a generic malware lifecycle model that defines a set of generic malware states and possible transitions between these states. Coordinated activities of distributed malware can be mapped to state transitions in malware instances, supporting the identification of (potentially hidden) network communication as a trigger for actions and hints on protocols that enabled the communication. Eventually, the proposed model aims at supporting the identification of architectures, protocols, interfaces, and points in time that a) either inhibit hidden malware communication or b) allow for optimized detection of anomalies as main prerequisite for timely countermeasures. While earlier work focused on protecting single hosts from compromise, this memo adopts a holistic view and considers the health of the overall networked system to be of highest priority. Presuming vulnerable systems, we stress that components or subsystems must be disconnected on suspected infection in an attempt to continue (even partial) operation of the overall (non-infected) system after the disconnect. Containment - the isolation of an infected subsystem - becomes an essential security feature in the context of critical infrastructures that influences on deployed protocols, interfaces and architectures.


Joachim Fabini (

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