updated 3/14/2011 2:14:10 PM ET 2011-03-14T18:14:10

The Department of Defense’s research arm has harnessed the science of infectious-disease biology to develop a program that will allow attacked computer systems to rebuild themselves in the same way living organisms do.

The project is called CRASH (the Clean-slate Design of Resilient, Adaptive, Secure Hosts), and it was created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which, since its inception in 1958, has developed technologies to enhance the security of the U.S. military.

CRASH’s aim is to create computer defense systems that use the workings of the human body as a model of security, and more importantly, resilience.

Kaigham Gabriel, DARPA deputy director, told the American Forces Press Service that in working with a group of infectious-disease biologists, DARPA was intrigued by the biological supposition that whatever the attacker is – virus, bacteria – it will get through the body’s defenses. The real progress is made when scientists develop ways to rid the body of its attackers.

The CRASH program seeks to apply this same reasoning to the world of cybersecurity – rather than focusing entirely on preventing the attackers from getting in, technological priorities needs to shift and focus on getting rid of the infections without harming the system.

Human bodies are “genetically diverse,” in that viruses that affect one won’t necessarily affect the other, Gabriel said. This is another tenet adopted by CRASH – Gabriel posed the idea of adding security solutions to hardware, effectively giving computers the same genetic diversity as humans and making them less susceptible to attack.

DARPA is also working on a program called PROCEED (Programming Computation on Encrypted Data ), that seeks to allow people to work on encrypted data without first decrypting it and therefore opening it up to attack.


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