Firenze: Model evaluation using weak signals
Data labels in the security field are frequently noisy, limited, or biased towards a subset of the population. As a result, commonplace evaluation methods such as accuracy, precision and recall metrics, or analysis of performance curves computed from labeled datasets do not provide sufficient confidence in the real-world performance of the model. In the industry today, we rely on domain expertise and lengthy manual evaluation to build this confidence before shipping a new model for security applications. This has slowed the adoption of machine learning in the field. In this paper, we introduce Firenze, a novel framework for comparative evaluation of ML models’ performance using domain expertise, encoded into scalable functions called markers. We show that markers computed and combined over select subsets of samples called regions of interest can provide a strong estimate of their real-world performances. Critically, we use statistical hypothesis testing to ensure that observed differences—and therefore conclusions emerging from our framework—are larger than those observable from noise alone. Using simulations and two real-world datasets for malware and domain-name-service reputation, we illustrate the effectiveness, limitations, and insights achievable with our approach. Taken together, we propose Firenze as a resource for fast, interpretable, and collaborative model development and evaluation by mixed teams of researchers, domain experts, and business owners.