System survivability

The Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory is working on projects that fall under the general heading of system survivability.

The idea is to focus on just those portions of a system that are absolutely critical to the mission it supports. One lab project, for example, involves the survivability of embedded subnetworks. In a given network, not every piece is "equally vital to the overall mission," said Steve Fernandez, manager of the Infrastructure Protection Systems division at the Idaho lab.

The trick is to identify the critical subnetworks that cannot be reduced and must be preserved.

"We may not be able to protect an entire network," Fernandez said. "How can we automatically reconfigure [a network] to shed nonessential elements" is a question the lab is exploring, he said.

The lab is also working at the operating systems level. Fernandez said a virus or some other kind of attack may activate 50,000 to 60,000 subroutines in an operating system. Plotting how frequently a given subroutine is activated can help identify attacks. The lab already has assembled a library of more than 500 attack signatures and is working on an agent-based system for responding to intrusions.

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