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Whiting School computer scientists lead effort to protect vital networks

June 28, 2016
Photo of Yair Amir

Yair Amir

Whiting School of Engineering computer scientists have led an effort to create a proven way to prevent sabotage from disrupting electronic networks supporting major infrastructure such as power grids and the electronic cloud.

The system – meant to protect against the sort of attack that in 2010 disrupted thousands of internet networks in the United States and around the world – is now available to the public as open source and was scheduled to be presented by the researchers today at an engineering conference in Japan.

“As the internet becomes an important part of the infrastructure our society depends on, it is crucial to construct networks that are able to work even when part of the network is compromised,” the authors wrote in their summary of the research led by Yair Amir, professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science at Johns Hopkins’ Whiting School of Engineering. Amir and three of the papers co-authors also affiliated with Johns Hopkins were scheduled to present their solution today for this long-standing network security challenge to the International Conference on Distributed Computing Systems, sponsored by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers in Nara, Japan. The other three Johns Hopkins scientists making the presentation on June 28 are Thomas Tantillo and Amy Babay, both doctoral students, and Daniel Obenshain, who just finished his doctorate in computer science.

The four Johns Hopkins scientists worked on the project as part of a team of eight researchers from three universities and two private technology companies. The universities are Northeastern and Purdue and the tech companies are Spread Concepts, LLC and LTN Global Communications.

Developed over the course of five years, this approach to protecting a network has been proven to keep a network going if part of it is compromised by an attack. The authors call this the “first practical intrusion-tolerant network service” because this is the first network service that can overcome sophisticated attacks and compromises and be deployed on a global scale over the existing internet. The system was evaluated and validated in a test that ran for nearly a year using the LTN Global Communications cloud spanning East Asia, North America and Europe. The test showed success, albeit with a higher cost that makes sense for vital infrastructure, such as power grids and the cloud.

The authors say this system would have protected the internet from the sort of disruption that occurred in April 2010, when some 8,000 U.S. networks were affected by bad routing information sent by a Chinese Internet Service Provider (ISP) through a state-owned company in China. The disruption appeared to be an accident, and may have stopped some traffic and redirected other traffic to malicious computers in China.

Read the complete story here.


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