Thursday, 5 March 2009

Colonies of 'Cybots' May Defend Government Networks

A video capture of UNTAME, depicting "near real-time network discovery, topology mapping, and monitoring," according to Trien.

The Cybot Age could soon be upon us. But be not afraid; this isn't Star Trek. We're not talking droves of evil cyborgs bent on galaxy domination.

If all goes as planned, in just a few years colonies of software robots -- "cybots" -- linked into a "hive" mind could be defending the largest computer systems in America against network intruders.

Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory say the program behind the cybots — Ubiquitous Transient Autonomous Mission Entities (UNTAME) — will be very different from current cybersecurity systems.

Joe Trien, who leads the team at the lab's Computational Sciences and Engineering Division, said what will make cybots so useful is that they will be able to form groups, function autonomously and respond almost immediately.

Trien likened the UNTAME framework to the Borg, a fictitious race of cybernetic organisms in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" that assimilated other cultures throughout the galaxy.

"The difference between an agent-based system and UNTAME is that the cybots are designed to function on their own and they can regenerate," he said. "It works with other robots, and what it does is known by the collective. So when you lose a robot, the collective hasn't lost the information that robot was able to achieve up until the point it was killed."

That's a quantum leap from current network "intelligent agents," which specialize in a single task and report to a central node or human administrator.

Trien said there is little danger that cybots will organize and take over the world, stressing that the real-life "cyborg collective" would be bound by human directives. But he did acknowledge that there is a risk of malicious cybots running awry.

"There's always that risk, and that's why we’re hesitant right now," Trien said. "If we don't put some boundaries on these cybots, they could turn against us. The potential is always there."

UNTAME's new levels of speed and automation will likely prevent hackers from targeting one area of an network while using a diversion at another location.

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