Title: To believe or not to believe: Validating explanation fidelity for dynamic malware analysis.
Authors: Li Chen (Intel Labs), Carter Yagemann (Georgia Tech), Evan Downing (Georgia Tech).
Abstract: Converting malware into images followed by vision-based deep learning algorithms has shown superior threat detection efficacy compared with classical machine learning algorithms. When malware are visualized as images, visual-based interpretation schemes can also be applied to extract insights of why individual samples are classified as malicious. In this work, via two case studies of dynamic malware classification, we extend the local interpretable model-agnostic explanation algorithm to explain image-based dynamic malware classification and examine the interpretation fidelity. For both case studies, we first train deep learning models via transfer learning on malware images, demonstrate high classification effectiveness, apply an explanation method on the images, and correlate the results back to the samples to validate whether the algorithmic insights are consistent with security domain expertise. In our first case study, the interpretation framework identifies indirect calls that uniquely characterize the underlying exploit behavior of a malware family. In our second case study, the interpretation framework extracts insightful information such as cryptography-related APIs when applied on images created from API existence, but generate ambiguous interpretation on images created from API sequences and frequencies. Our findings indicate that current image-based interpretation techniques are promising for vision-based malware classification. We continue to develop image-based interpretation schemes specifically for security applications.