Safeguarding the Internet: Contributions of Cybersecurity Researchers

10 months ago

In our everyday lives, the internet serves as the fundamental backbone, facilitating a myriad of activities, from business operations and communication with loved ones to controlling household appliances. Vital domains such as transportation, medical devices, agriculture machinery, and security systems are intricately woven into its fabric. Even currency, once symbolised by “cold, hard cash,” now exists in the ethereal realm, engaging over 100 million global users in virtual transactions.

However, the presumption of this digital connectivity’s safety and reliability is misleading, as the online landscape is besieged by many threats. The escalating realm of cybersecurity is dedicated to safeguarding this intricate system and its users from the clutches of contemporary cybercriminals, ranging from nation-state actors to small-scale saboteurs and even lone individuals causing havoc from their living rooms.

Within the University of Oregon’s Department of Computer and Information Science, the significance of cybersecurity has surged. Collaborating extensively with experts from fields like philosophy, law, business, and beyond, faculty members at the UO Center for Cyber Security and Privacy have immersed themselves in researching and mitigating threats to internet traffic, cryptocurrency, social media networks, infrastructure security, and more.

Thwarting DDoS Deniers

Lei Jiao, an assistant professor in the computer science department, focuses on countering those who engage in Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks—an effort to incapacitate computers by overwhelming them with data traffic. These attacks can bring about the paralysis of a single computer, a group of computers, or even an entire multinational corporation. Jiao’s innovative work has earned him recognition, including a Ripple Labs fellowship as part of their cryptocurrency platform development initiative.

A DDoS attack involves malicious actors flooding a victim’s system with a massive volume of data traffic, rendering the victim’s legitimate activities futile due to bandwidth overload. To counter such attacks, internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast operate “scrubbing centres.” These centres, equipped with numerous computers, identify and neutralize intruders by filtering out harmful traffic while routing the rest to users. However, the decision-making process within these centres requires intricate management.

Jiao is at the forefront of devising “smart algorithms” designed to guide these decision-making processes efficiently. “My algorithms will automatically provide precise guidance to internet service providers on handling each attack,” he explains, thereby eliminating the need for manual intervention.

Combatting Crypto-Criminals

Yingjiu “Joe” Li, a distinguished professor known for his contributions to Ripple, along with PhD student Sanidhay Arora, is investigating flash loan attacks prevalent in cryptocurrency exchanges. Cryptocurrency, existing exclusively in digital format, is traded on decentralised platforms free from the oversight of traditional institutions like banks or governments. This convenience, combined with the absence of censorship or interference from third parties, has attracted over 100 million participants globally.

As the cryptocurrency market surpassed $3 trillion in 2021, its exponential growth has raised concerns about security. While decentralisation reduces hacking risks on exchanges like traditional stock markets, it also creates new avenues for cybercriminals. The ownership of individual “coins” is maintained in a digital ledger called a blockchain, distributed among network users. However, the security measures of blockchain exchanges often lag behind operational demands.

Li and Arora are delving into enhancing the security protocols governing these exchanges, specifically focusing on flash loan attacks. These attacks involve borrowing cryptocurrency assets, manipulating prices, and profiting in seconds. Through meticulous research and innovation, they aspire to prevent or detect such attacks, bolstering the safety of cryptocurrency users.

Network Resilience in the Face of Disaster

Ram Durairajan, an assistant professor, has embarked on a mission to bolster network resilience with the support of grants exceeding $3 million from the National Science Foundation and other sources. Collaborating with PhD student Matthew Hall, Durairajan’s work revolves around thwarting denial of service threats by reconfiguring data transmission paths.

He analogises network attacks to a museum theft, where altering the path of data transmission confounds attackers. Durairajan’s strategy entails recalibrating data paths at intervals, making it challenging for malicious actors to predict their course of action.

Durairajan’s endeavours extend to safeguarding network connectivity during natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, and rising sea levels. Considering that the West Coast, including the Oregon Coast, hosts underwater fiber cables connecting continents, these areas are at risk. A subduction zone fault line adds to the vulnerability. Durairajan devised ShakeNet, an assessment tool evaluating earthquake-induced risks to wired and wireless infrastructure. This tool allows rerouting data during seismic events, ensuring uninterrupted connectivity by bypassing vulnerable areas.

Acknowledging the threat posed by climate change, Durairajan unveiled the vulnerability of fiberoptic cables to rising sea levels in areas including New York, Miami, and Seattle. Embracing a proactive approach to such challenges, Durairajan’s focus on worst-case scenarios stems from a commitment to ensuring safety and the seamless operation of the internet.

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