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Alumnus Radha Poovendran is PI for cybersecurity MURI grant

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Alumnus Radha Poovendran (EE Ph.D. 1999) is the principal investigator for a five-year, $7.5 million Department of Defense Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant, one of 23 awards totaling $162 million announced by the Department of Defense in early April.

Poovendran is a full professor in the Electrical Engineering Department at the University of Washington, and is currently the department chair. He also founded and directs the Network Security Lab there. At Maryland, Poovendran was advised by Professor John Baras (ECE/ISR).

“ADAPT: An Analytical Framework for Actionable Defense against Advanced Persistent Threats” is part of the DOD’s “Practical and Realistic Dynamic Formalism for Advanced Cyber Interaction” topic. The research will aim to protect against a new type of continuous computer hacking attack, known as advanced persistent threats.

“Unlike conventional viruses, these threats exploit vulnerabilities and persist over a very long time and they’re very difficult to detect,” Poovendran said. “Right now, there is no good understanding of the interactions in these complex cyberattacks, or how to mitigate them.”

The research team will develop a novel game theory framework to address the continuous computer hacking attacks, which are essentially a game played between the system and adversary, where each is constantly trying to outsmart the other. A unique trait of advanced persistent threats is that they consist of a variety of different attacks over time. 

Economic game theory, which most modeling methods are grounded in, does not work well in this type of attack. To develop the new framework, the researchers will use a combination of statistical modeling, adaptive game theory, machine learning and control and systems theory. They plan to model the strategic interactions between the malware attacks and develop a methodology to determine which side is “gaining” or “losing” in the attack, which will enable the system to know when to activate a specific defense.  

The MURI team also includes researchers from the University of California, Berkeley; the University of California, Santa Barbara; Georgia Tech and the University of Illinois. The award was granted through the Office of Naval Research.

MURI awards support interdisciplinary research that has the potential to improve the nation’s security and expand military capabilities by teams of investigators in various science and engineering disciplines.

---Many thanks to Brooke Fisher at the University of Washington, who wrote the original story about this award.

Published April 12, 2016