IU part of $23.2 million cyberattack research program

October 9, 2013

Models for Enabling Continuous Reconfigurability of Secure Missions, a five-year, $23.2 million cooperative agreement, will form a collaborative research alliance consisting of Indiana University, Penn State, Carnegie Mellon University, University of California Davis, University of California Riverside, and the Army Research Laboratory.

The aim of the alliance is to create a science to detect and model cyberattacks and the risk and motivations behind them, and to create a response that can counter the attack and neutralize the cyberattackers in real time. Consortium researchers — including three Indiana University Bloomington faculty members — will jointly develop the research program, and lead and conduct research under the alliance.

School of Informatics and Computing professor L. Jean Camp will serve as the principal investigator for the IU portion of the work, with Bennett I. Bertenthal, a professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and Diane S. Henshel, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, joining in the work as co-investigators.

The $23.2 million, five-year funding for the core and enhanced program is renewable for an additional five years and $25 million. IU’s portion for the initial five-year agreement is $2.6 million. The project will support 17 faculty and more than 30 graduate students among the partnering universities.

John Pellegrino, director of the Army Research Laboratory’s computational and information sciences directorate, notes that “the understanding and operation of complex, heterogeneous Army battlefield networks in the presence of unrelenting cyberattacks is a formidable challenge for the Army’s scientific and network operations communities. We look forward to exploring this fascinating and dynamic technical area, bringing some of the top technical minds in the Army Research Laboratory together with these highly talented academic partners to advance cyber science.”

While this research has obvious applications to defense, cyberattacks take place anywhere computer networks exist, so the implications for industry and consumers are great, according to members of the IU team.

The alliance will focus on four areas: detecting adversaries and attacks in cyberspace, measuring and managing risk, and altering the environment to achieve best results at the least cost. The fourth area — developing models of human behaviors and capabilities that enable understanding and predicting motivations and actions of users, defenders and attackers — will be integrated into the first three areas.

Camp,  Bertenthal, and Henshel will take the lead on the risk component of the project, where measures of environmental stress and cognitive load will be combined with detection of virtual threats, with the goal being to develop repeatable, testable methods to assess online risks. Those risks include personal privacy and finances, but the focus of the project is Army mission support, for safety of life and limb.

They will then work with the detection team to assess the state of the attackers, what motivates them and their goals and abilities.

The new science will enable future networked systems to take actions in response to attacks without human intervention. For example, a server observing unusual network traffic from an unknown entity might determine it was under attack and filter that traffic. However, many of the required actions will need human decision-making and action.