'Cyber diversity' research aims to strengthen security

University campuses and corporate boardrooms aren't the only places that benefit from diversity -- computer networks and the Internet could stand up better to viruses and worms if they relied on more diverse software, according to computer scientists at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of New Mexico.

The scientists are using a US$750,000 grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to study how cyber diversity can help defend against the scourge of computer viruses and worms, according to the NSF. The NSF is an independent US government agency that funds scientific research.

Researchers at the two universities will look at ways to change different components of a computer's software code that are transparent to users, but that introduce a kind of "genetic diversity," according to a statement from Dawn Song, an assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. Such changes might not protect any single machine, but could make computer networks and the Internet less prone to outbreaks of computer viruses like Code Red, Slammer and the recent Blaster worms, which spread by exploiting known vulnerabilities in operating systems and software applications, according to Carl Landwehr, program director for the Cyber Trust program at NSF.

"A lot of problems out there on computer systems are aggravated by the fact that a lot of the systems share the same problems," Landwehr said. "If somebody succeeds in hacking one system, it's likely that the same technique will work on a whole lot of other systems."

That phenomenon is analogous to the greater impact of diseases in biologic "monocultures," because they are large populations of genetically similar organisms, he said. But analogies to biology only go so far.

"Computers are not biologic organisms," Landwehr said, acknowledging that there are also advantages to having a network made up of computers that use the same software, including better interoperability, centralized management and reduced administrative costs compared with networks made up of a heterogenous mix of systems.

Researchers will consider the affects of the widespread use of a single platform, such as Microsoft's Windows operating system, but platform diversity is not the subject of the project, he said.

Instead, researchers will look for ways to increase the diversity of computer networks without introducing more development or management overhead. That might include developing ways to automate the introduction of subtle changes in software code or instructions that will result in different instances of the same software, Landwehr said.

Such changes would make it difficult for attackers to know the exact makeup of any single system, he said.

The three-year grant is part of the NSF's ongoing Cyber Trust program, which funds research into improving how robust computing platforms are in the face of malicious hackers and other attacks, he said.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Paul Roberts

IDG News Service
Show Comments



Victorinox Werks Professional Executive 17 Laptop Case

Learn more >



Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?