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MIT Lincoln Laboratory software aims to thwart cyber hackers

MIT Lincoln Laboratory software aims to thwart cyber hackers
MIT Lincoln Laboratory software aims to thwart cyber hackers 

MIT News
August 27, 2008

In response to the chronic cyber threat of hackers, MIT Lincoln 
Laboratory researchers are developing a software tool to identify the 
most vulnerable points in a computer network. The tool aims to make it 
possible for system administrators to focus on parts of a network that 
are most prone to attack, instead of securing all parts of the network.

U.S. government and defense computer networks are attacked all the time, 
says Richard Lippmann, leader of the work and a senior staff member in 
Lincoln's Information Systems Technology Group. In an attack known as 
Titan Rain, between 2003 and 2005 a series of breaches of U.S. 
government computers may have captured sensitive information about 
military readiness.

NetSPA (for Network Security Planning Architecture) uses information 
about networks and the individual machines and programs running on them 
to create a graph that shows how hackers could infiltrate them. System 
administrators can examine visualizations of the graph themselves to 
decide what action to take, but NetSPA also analyzes the graph and 
offers recommendations about how to quickly fix the most important 

NetSPA relies on vulnerability scanners to identify known weaknesses in 
network-accessible programs that might allow an unauthorized person 
access to a machine. But simply being aware of vulnerabilities is not 
sufficient; NetSPA also has to analyze complex firewall and router rules 
to determine which vulnerabilities can actually be reached and exploited 
by attackers and how attackers can spread through a network by jumping 
from one vulnerable host to another.


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