ICASA Team Secures Cyber-Security Patent

SOCORRO, N.M. June 23, 2015 – A team of scientists and engineers at the Institute for Complex Additive Systems Analysis recently learned that their patent application was accepted.


ICASA is a research division of New Mexico Tech that focuses on computer science and cyber security. The team of 10 individuals includes current staff scientists, former employees and students and representatives of the organization that commissioned the research.


Max Planck, the leader of the team, said the research started in 2006 and the patent application was filed in October 2012. Patent #9,032,518 is simply titled “Internet monitoring and alerting system,” but the scope of the project is much larger than the title.


“Most cyber security tools are geared toward one enterprise or one network – like looking at the campus network,” Planck said. “In this instance of the tool, it was designed to work on a global scale.”


The new patented system is a monitoring and alert software that can detect Internet disruptions as they happen. As a network responds to disruptions, this new system captures that behavior as observed through routing protocol messages to create a live stream of reports for situational awareness.


Planck said the new system could respond to either malicious attacks or natural events, such as a human-generated worm or a tsunami.


“How does a network respond in the face of a disruption?” Planck said. “This has the potential to respond to things you haven’t seen before.”


The innovation with this new tool is the scope and scale of the problems being addressed.


“The Internet is a very large place, so trying to understand how to build awareness of something that large and complicated is challenging,” Planck said. “We couldn’t just break the Internet to see if the tool worked well. So we looked at a bunch of history of the Internet and found where other things had broken it – an anchor gets dragged across the Mediterranean floor near Egypt, severing an undersea cable … the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 … a worm in 2003 that took over the Internet. We built a catalog of those events over time and used those as benchmarks.”


Former assistant director of ICASA Darryl Ackley encouraged the team to apply for a patent. Ackley was later appointed as the Chief Information Officer for the state of New Mexico by Gov. Susana Martinez in 2011.


The initial team included a multi-disciplinary team of scientists, engineers and mathematicians, including staff members, graduate students and undergrads. In addition to Planck, and Ackley, other contributors included Isis Pollard, Richard Colbaugh, Kristin Glass, Gerald Willard, Michelle Thiess, Jason Mattax, Brandon Barber and Noah Sheppard.


“From the initial science phase, we moved into development,” Planck said. “So, we would have programmers building the code to do the work while we were building a prototype and working on aspects of new science.”


In addition to detecting disruptions, the patent covers an automated analysis engine that parses routing information and selected Internet behaviors. The analysis module also determines a probable point of origin for route hijacks.


Planck spearheaded the publication of their results in 2011 in the IEEE Spectrum. The team has also presented the research at three national conferences. The patent application was filed in October 2012 and accepted in May 2015.


“I’m honestly surprised we got the patent,” Planck said. “When you work with something like that for that long, it’s hard to disassociate yourself from it. It seems normal and routine because we had been working on it for years.”


Planck said that the team has ideas of future adaptations of the product for regional applications or to be used by specific sectors, such as education, utilities or defense. The product currently is housed on servers at ICASA and could be activated with a modest investment. The real effort will be to deploy the system for an active customer and incorporate it into an existing data stream. With patent in hand, Planck said the next step is to market the package.


“We’ve had some previous interactions with telecoms telecommunication companies and you can imagine how they’d be interested in global happenings,” Planck said. “It’s time to move into marketing phase … but we’re scientists and engineers. Do you really want us to do that?”


The New Mexico legislature established ICASA in 2001 to study complex systems related to large-scale critical infrastructures. ICASA’s mission is to solve national security and critical infrastructure protection problems. The institute’s research agenda includes four main areas: understanding behaviors and vulnerabilities of complex additive systems; creating techniques for information assurance; training analysts, scientists, and engineers; and educating the next generation of engineers, mathematicians, and scientists.


The ICASA team would like to acknowledge and honor Jason Mattax, one of the founding contributors to this work and an author on the patent, who has sadly passed on.


– NMT –


By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech