Volgenau School Researchers Collaborate on Subcontract

Posted: March 21, 2008 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Jennifer Edgerly

Five researchers and faculty members in the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering recently received a subcontract through Telcordia Technologies, Inc. and funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) worth more than $640,000 for their part in a project aimed at creating new Internet protocols that would provide inherently secure networks.

Current Internet protocols allow users to send and receive messages with anonymity. This open-door policy is one of the hallmarks of the Internet. However, it is also a fundamental reason why spam has overtaken our mailboxes and why we suffer attacks constantly.

Our objective with this project is to devise a system in which all communication is denied by default while permitting pre-negotiated communications,” says Anup Ghosh, research professor and chief scientist in the Center for Secure Information Systems. “It is a fairly ambitious effort by a dream team of network researchers to define a new set of protocols that are secure by design, rather than retrofitted with security after the fact.”

While these new protocols may someday affect the common Internet user, they are currently being designed with military needs in mind. When the U.S. military is deployed in either barren terrain or an urban setting where the fixed networks have either been destroyed or cannot be depended on for military communications, the U.S. military must bring its own network. In these situations, wireless ad hoc networks, makeshift networks that use only wireless cards and their own computers to transmit and relay data, are created using only soldier packs, vehicle computers and airborne assets that are typically on the move, rather than fixed networking infrastructure.

However, existing wireless ad hoc networking continue to use traditional Internet protocols which provide neither secure environments nor guarantee timely delivery of information. The DARPA program for Intrinsically Assured Mobile Ad hoc Networks (IAMANETs) is intended to develop new Internet protocols that would guarantee that only authorized personnel and machines are allowed to access a specific network and provide sufficient network resources for each connection, while ensuring that no single connection can exceed its pre-negotiated resources that would otherwise block other connections.

Access to secure networks would be authorized by presenting credentials that have already been vetted by a third party to verify the identity of the user. Once access is granted, each user will be provided with a capability token – a contract – that will indicate exactly the bounds the communication must adhere to as well as provide and allocate network resources for that connection, including the amount of data they are allowed to put on the network at any given time. Each node that participates in the network connection enforces these bounds to ensure no single machine that may be compromised can compromise other machines on the network, or take over all available network resources. These new protocols would provide a highly assured network for mission critical activities.

The project is led by Telcordia Technologies, Inc in collaboration with three universities (Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania and Mason) and SPARTA, Inc. The team from Mason is comprised of faculty and researchers from the Center for Secure Information Systems and the computer science and electrical and computer engineering departments.

“One of the most exciting things about this project is that typically you have single investigators, but this specific project allows for a lot of collaboration,” says Ghosh. “Not only are we working across departments in the Volgenau School but we are also working with leading experts in the field from other universities and corporations.”

Faculty involved in the project at Mason include Ghosh; Brian Mark, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Sanjeev Setia, associate professor of computer science; Robert Simon, associate professor of computer science and Angelos Stavrou, assistant professor of computer science.

Write to at