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Title: Towards A Theory of Autonomous Reconstitution of Compromised Cyber-Systems

The ability to maintain mission-critical operations in cyber-systems in the face of disruptions is critical. Faults in cyber systems can come from accidental sources (e.g., natural failure of a component) or deliberate sources (e.g., an intelligent adversary). Natural and intentional manipulation of data, computing, or coordination are the most impactful ways that an attacker can prevent an infrastructure from realizing its mission goals. Under these conditions, the ability to reconstitute critical infrastructure becomes important. Specifically, the question is: Given an intelligent adversary, how can cyber systems respond to keep critical infrastructure operational? In cyber systems, the distributed nature of the system poses serious difficulties in maintaining operations, in part due to the fact that a centralized command and control apparatus is unlikely to provide a robust framework for resilience. Resilience in cyber-systems, in general, has several components, and requires the ability to anticipate and withstand attacks or faults, as well as recover from faults and evolve the system to improve future resilience. The recovery effort (and any subsequent evolution) may require significant reconfiguration of the system (at all levels – hardware, software, services, permissions, etc.) if the system is to be made resilient to further attack or faults. This ismore » especially important in the case of ongoing attacks, where reconfiguration decisions must be taken with care to avoid further compromising the system while maintaining continuity of operations. Collectively, we will label this recovery and evolution process as “reconstitution”. Currently, reconstitution is performed manually, generally after-the-fact, and usually consists of either standing up redundant systems, check-points (rolling back the configuration to a “clean” state), or re-creating the system using “gold-standard” copies. For enterprise systems, such reconstitution may be performed either directly on hardware, or using virtual machines. A significant challenge within this context is the ability to verify that the reconstitution is performed in a manner that renders the cyber-system resilient to ongoing and future attacks or faults. Fundamentally, the need is to determine optimal configuration of the cyber system when a fault is determined to be present. While existing theories for fault tolerance (for example, Byzantine fault tolerance) can guarantee resilience under certain conditions, in practice, these theories can break down in the face of an intelligent adversary. Further, it is difficult, in a dynamically evolving environment, to determine whether the necessary conditions for resilience have been met, resulting in difficulties in achieving resilient operation. In addition, existing theories do not sufficiently take into account the cost for attack and defense (the adversary is generally assumed to have infinite resources and time), hierarchy of importance (all network resources are assumed to be equally important), and the dynamic nature of some attacks (i.e., as the attack evolves, can resilience be maintained?). Alternative approaches to resilience based on a centralized command and control structure suffer from a single-point-failure. This paper presents preliminary research towards concepts for effective autonomous reconstitution of compromised cyber systems. We describe a mathematical framework as a first step towards a theoretical basis for autonomous reconstitution in dynamic cyber-system environments. We then propose formulating autonomous reconstitution as an optimization problem and describe some of the challenges associated with this formulation. This is followed by a brief discussion on potential solutions to these challenges.« less
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Conference: IEEE International Conference on Technologies for Homeland Security (HST 2013), November 12-14, 2013, Waltham, MA, 577-583
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., Piscataway, NJ, United States(US).
Research Org:
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Richland, WA (US)
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Country of Publication:
United States
resilience; cyber-systems; reconstitution; asymmetric resilience; fault tolerance; intelligent adversary