New strategy fights hackers with ‘false hope’

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A new method to fight hacking and cybersecurity threats uses artificial intelligence and psychology principles to give hackers false hope that they’re succeeding.

With almost every online purchase, a person’s personal information—name, date of birth, and credit card number—is stored electronically often in the “cloud,” a network of internet servers.

Now, as more people buy from online businesses, researchers hope to employ the new strategy in the ongoing struggle to protect digital information in the cloud from targeted cyberattacks.

“Our ‘defense by pretense’ system quarantines the attacker and allows the cloud operators to buy time…”

“We are interested in the targeted attacks where the attacker is trying to exploit data or critical infrastructure resources, such as blocking data access, tampering [with] facts, or stealing data,” says Prasad Calyam, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and the director of Cyber Education and Research Initiative in the University of Missouri College of Engineering.

“Attackers are trying to use peoples’ compromised resources to infiltrate their data without their knowledge, and these attacks are becoming increasingly significant because attackers are realizing they can make money in a big way like never before.”

In this study, the researchers focused on two types of cyberattacks—those seeking customer data and those stealing resources such as bitcoins, a type of digital currency.

“Our ‘defense by pretense’ system quarantines the attacker and allows the cloud operators to buy time and build a stronger defense for their systems,” Calyam says.

“The quarantine is a decoy that behaves very similar to the real compromised target to keep the attacker assuming that the attack is still succeeding. In a typical cyberattack the more deeply attackers go in the system, the more they have the ability to go many directions. It becomes like a Whack-A-Mole game for those defending the system.

“Our strategy simply changes the game, but makes the attackers think they are being successful.”

Researchers say buying time is important because it allows those directing the cyber resources to devise a more sophisticated defensive strategy to use at a later time when the cyber-attacker returns to make a more vigorous attack knowing that valuable assets are being defended.

The study appears in Future Generation Computer Systems.

Additional researchers who contributed to the study came from the University of Missouri and the University of Oregon. Funding came from a National Science Foundation Award. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Source: University of Missouri