DOI: 10.1145/3629131 ISSN: 2834-5509

Amoeba: Circumventing ML-supported Network Censorship via Adversarial Reinforcement Learning

Haoyu Liu, Alec F. Diallo, Paul Patras

Embedding covert streams into a cover channel is a common approach to circumventing Internet censorship, due to censors' inability to examine encrypted information in otherwise permitted protocols (Skype, HTTPS, etc.). However, recent advances in machine learning (ML) enable detecting a range of anti-censorship systems by learning distinct statistical patterns hidden in traffic flows. Therefore, designing obfuscation solutions able to generate traffic that is statistically similar to innocuous network activity, in order to deceive ML-based classifiers at line speed, is difficult.

In this paper, we formulate a practical adversarial attack strategy against flow classifiers as a method for circumventing censorship. Specifically, we cast the problem of finding adversarial flows that will be misclassified as a sequence generation task, which we solve with Amoeba, a novel reinforcement learning algorithm that we design. Amoeba works by interacting with censoring classifiers without any knowledge of their model structure, but by crafting packets and observing the classifiers' decisions, in order to guide the sequence generation process. Our experiments using data collected from two popular anti-censorship systems demonstrate that Amoeba can effectively shape adversarial flows that have on average 94% attack success rate against a range of ML algorithms. In addition, we show that these adversarial flows are robust in different network environments and possess transferability across various ML models, meaning that once trained against one, our agent can subvert other censoring classifiers without retraining.

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