(Oct. 1, 2018) -- They still don’t know how long they had been planning the attack. Either way, the hackers with several strokes of a keyboard, unleashed a malware that hijacked the City of Atlanta’s computer systems. Mayor Keisha Laice Bottoms at the time called it a “hostage situation.” Sam Sam, the group thought to be the masterminds behind the attack, now demanded thousands of dollars in bitcoins or they would continue to freeze access to databases and cripple key departments in the city.
Information management teams caught off guard as to when the infiltration occurred now scrambled to contain the damage. Atlanta, a major global transportation hub, became a victim of one of the largest ransomware attacks in a U.S. city within a matter of moments.
In an effort to prevent another occurrence like Atlanta, Professor Shouhuai Xu, director of the Laboratory for Cybersecurity Dynamics at UTSA, proposes the creation of a malware recognition algorithm which will unmask malicious software, and with a new grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) this may become a reality.
“It’s like a mirror that shows us what is really there,” says Xu about the idea behind his approach to be able to detect the “cosmetic” changes that malicious software uses to camouflage appearances and infiltrate systems. His method will also explore why certain defensive mechanisms are less or more vulnerable.
The NSF grant awarded Professor Xu is valued close to $500,000 to develop the machine-learning algorithm which will also have the task to categorize the large number of malware in the wild, which was 669,000 million in 2017 according to a Symantec estimate.
“It’s like biology. When we encounter a new virus you either defeat it or survive it. The immune system learns to recognize the virus, we are mimicking that defense and going beyond by unmasking the disguised new threats,” added Xu.
News of the NSF award to the UTSA professor first came from Congressman Joaquin Castro’s (TX-20) office.
“As we continue to combat growing cyber threats against our nation and our allies abroad, I welcome this federal grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will help our city continue developing effective countermeasures against sophisticated cyber-attacks,” said Congressman Castro in a press release.
The grant will go into effect October 1, 2018 and run through September 30, 2021. And although the award is a step in the countermeasure defensive industry, according to 2018 international estimates from Lloyds of London, about $127 billion are the estimated costs due to cyberattacks.
Professor Xu’s idea is but one approach of many that will be required to build up the cyber resistance. Hackers constantly rely on evasion techniques in this current game of cat and mouse.
“This is the new arms race. We frequently have to elevate our defense and security will always be an open problem. There is no silver bullet,” says Xu about the never-ending war of protecting cyber space.
Home of Cyber City USA, San Antonio leads the nation in cyber security research and development with UTSA playing a critical role. UTSA made news when it secured funding to open its National Security Collaboration Center.
All UTSA faculty, staff and students are invited to attend open forums featuring finalist candidates for the dean of the UTSA College of Sciences.Various Locations, Main Campus
UTSA is an early voting site for the statewide General Election.H-E-B Student Union Bexar Room (HSU 1.102), Main Campus
More than 75 local, state and national graduate and professional schools will showcase their programs at the Main Campus. It's free and open to the public. Interested attendees are encouraged to register for the event in advance.Sombrilla Plaza, Main Campus
UTSA Associate Professor of Anthropology Jill Fleuriet will moderate a neutral dialogue on what is and what is not protected as free speech, what constitutes hate speech and a university's role in supporting free speech on their respective campus.Student Union Retama Auditorium (SU 2.02.02), Main Campus
Hosted by the UTSA Office of Information Technology Student Innovation Coalition, Tech Talk is a forum for students to share thoughts about technology on campus with IT professionals and learn about products and services available to help them succeed.Student Union Denman Room (SU 2.01.28), Main Campus
UTSA Libraries will host Claudia García-Louis, assistant professor, at the Downtown Library for her presentation AfroLatinxs: Navigating Blackness and Latinidad in the Age of Trump, as part of the popular Pizza and Research series.Buena Vista Street Building Downtown Library (BVB 2.314), Downtown Campus
UTSA faculty, staff and students are invited to hear preliminary findings from the UTSA Campus Master Plan Discovery Survey and to offer students, faculty and staff another opportunity to provide input and ask questions about the initiative.Buena Vista Street Building Theater (BVB 1.326), Downtown Campus
UTSA faculty, staff and students are invited to hear preliminary findings from the UTSA Campus Master Plan Discovery Survey. The faculty and staff forum is from 11am-noon in the Harris Room and the forum for students is from noon-1pm in the Travis Room.H-E-B Student Union (HSU 2.212 and HSU 2.202), Main Campus