DHS backs mini-Internet test bed for cybersecurity

Project at USC will allow researchers to investigate malware without infecting the real Internet

The Homeland Security Department will spend $16 million during the next five years in a cybersecurity testbed being run out of the University of Southern California.

The project, run out DETERlab (for Cyber Defense Technology Experimental Research) at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering's Information Sciences Institute (ISI), will be named DETECT and is a way to create a miniature Internet that cybersecurity researchers can use to simulate the actual Internet, according to an article in InformationWeek.

DETECT will expand and improve upon the existing DETERlab project, which has been in existence since 2003 as a testbed for security and cyber research. It has been funded in the past by DHS, the National Science Foundation and other government agencies.

The testbed “provides an isolated 400-node mini-Internet, in which researchers can investigate malware and other security threats without danger of infecting the real Internet. It provides researchers with a controlled and safe experimental environment for scientific research. It also supports classroom exercises in computer security for nearly 400 students at 10 universities and colleges,” according to an ISI press release.

A portion of the DETECT contract will be to evangelize the DETERlab testbed and improve communication among cybersecurity researchers. The goal will be to build a community of researchers using the DETERlab platform to crowdsource cybersecurity.

“ISI’s federation extension to DETERlab will allow these new DETER testbeds to interconnect, to expand and diversify the research resources available to academia, industry and government,” according to ISI.

The crowdsourcing has already begun. In November 2010, the Cyber Security and Information Assurance (CSIA) Interagency Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Working Group endorsed the DETERlab platform. In its report to the Congress and the president in December 2010, the NITRD and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) called for more funding from NITRD associated agencies in the area of cybersecurity.

“The NITRD agencies should fund an aggressive basic research program to derive first principles and fundamental buildings blocks of trustworthiness and security – units of functionality that can be implemented in hardware, software or both,” the PCAST report stated.

The DHS spending on DETERlab appears to be a step in that direction and could have a significant return on investment on the $3.2 average annual value of the contract. The DHS budget for university and training programs for fiscal year 2011 was initially presented to be $40 million.

About the Author

Dan Rowinski is a staff reporter covering communications technologies.

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