Borrowing from Botany to Fix the Net


January 20, 2004

What do agriculture epidemics and Internet viruses have in common?

According to Indias Business Standard, both catastrophes introduce new agents which cause widespread damage because they are unexpected and the systems may not be diverse enough to survive an attack. In the same way that one species of plant may be devastated by blight, so are our "digital monocultures" vulnerable to attack when they rely on a single technology.

Professor of ECE and CS Mike Reiter and Assistant Professor of ECE and CS Dawn Song are using this premise to identify which parts of the Internet are the weakest. Their project was granted $750,000 by the National Science Foundation last November in a collaborative effort with the University of New Mexico.

"The project is really about identifying points of attack, such as memory layout. Computers are pretty much the same to a first approximation, which means they can be attacked in the same way," Reiter said in an interview with the Business Standard for their article "Agricultural epidemics may hold clues to Net viruses."

Their project, along with studies from the University of New Mexico, will use the monoculture theory to look for ways to minimize security risks.



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