Finding Needles in a Moving Haystack: Prioritizing Alerts with Adversarial Reinforcement Learning

  • Liang Tong Washington University in St. Louis
  • Aron Laszka University of Houston
  • Chao Yan Vanderbilt University
  • Ning Zhang Washington University in St. Louis
  • Yevgeniy Vorobeychik Washington University in St. Louis


Detection of malicious behavior is a fundamental problem in security. One of the major challenges in using detection systems in practice is in dealing with an overwhelming number of alerts that are triggered by normal behavior (the so-called false positives), obscuring alerts resulting from actual malicious activities. We introduce a novel approach for computing a policy for prioritizing alerts using adversarial reinforcement learning. Our approach assumes that the attacker knows the full state of the detection system and the defender's alert prioritization policy, and will dynamically choose an optimal attack. The first step of our approach is to capture the interaction between the defender and attacker in a game theoretic model. To tackle the computational complexity of solving this game to obtain a dynamic stochastic alert prioritization policy, we propose an adversarial reinforcement learning framework. In this framework, we use neural reinforcement learning to compute best response policies for both the defender and the adversary to an arbitrary stochastic policy of the other. We then use these in a double-oracle framework to obtain an approximate equilibrium of the game, which in turn yields a robust stochastic policy for the defender. We use case studies in network intrusion and fraud detection to demonstrate that our approach is effective in creating robust alert prioritization policies.1

AAAI Technical Track: Applications