Denial of service (DoS) attacks, the scourge of the internet, and an effectively unstoppable menace, may soon meet their match.
A security team based at the Southern California Information Sciences Institute (ISI), has developed a system to combat the DoS threat.
Experts say DoS attacks are becoming more common, and ISI reckons there could be as many as 4,000 attacks occurring every week. But armed with a $1.2m grant from the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), ISI says that Cossack (Coordinated Suppression of Simultaneous Attacks) is the answer.
"Rather than passively waiting for attacks to occur Cossack will put 'automatic cops', in the form of a network of dedicated security computers, on the job, proactively monitoring the internet for danger signs," said Christos Papadopoulos, an ISI researcher.
"These computers will be able both to act themselves, autonomously, when they detect such signs, and also to enlist the aid of their computer colleagues and human personnel."
He said that even the big players who are themselves experts in security, such as Cert, fall victim to such attacks because each attack must be dealt with by hand, in real time, using a complicated set of commands and techniques.
And attackers are learning new tricks.
Papadopoulos said that very few sites can handle the onslaught of a full-on DoS attack.
"Attackers can patrol the internet at leisure, then find and take over vulnerable machines, one by one. Then, weeks or months later, these can be used in an attack," he said.
Cossack hopes to change the balance of power by setting up dedicated computers which will continuously monitor the internet, looking for the tell-tale signs of an attack.
When these networked computers sense an attack, they can themselves act to quarantine or filter the malicious messages. They can bring the problem to the immediate attention of specialists, who can observe the automated response and augment it if necessary.
"We think this will substantially increase security," Papadopoulos said.
He hopes that Cosssack will be ready to patrol the internet experimentally before the end of 2003.
He said: "We have a growing problem, and we hope to have a better mousetrap before we start encountering smarter mice."
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