(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.
This photo exhibit explores the history and tradition behind the Mexican drink.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
UTSA faculty, staff and students are invited to attend open forums featuring the three finalist candidates for the position of vice president for the Office of Research, Economic Development and Knowledge Enterprise.Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
This year’s Symposium will focus on Operational Command and Control in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Tickets are $60 for Admiral Nimitz Foundation Members and $70 for non-members.Student Union Retama Auditorium (SU 2.02.02), Main Campus
The NSA Codebreaker Challenge provides students with a hands-on opportunity to develop their reverse-engineering, low-level code analysis skills while working on a realistic problem set centered around the NSA’s mission. Developer Eric Bryant will present a Tech Talk and answer questions about the challenge. Doors open at 2:30 p.m. Free pizza. Open to all.John Peace Library (JPL 4.04.22), Main Campus
UTSA's Office of Sustainability hosts a full day of activities to celebrate the opening of the Tito Bradshaw Bicycle Repair Shop. A ribbon-cutting at 6 p.m.will include President Eighmy, Mayor Nirenberg, Councilman Pelaez and Councilwoman Gonzales.Ximenes Ave. between Ximenes Ave. Lot and Brackenridge Ave. Lot 1, Main Campus
Annual symposium to highlight the importance of effective translation and interpreting in our global community.H-E-B Student Union Travis Room (HSU 2.202), Main Campus
The UTSA Institute for Law and Public Affairs and the Southwest Association of Prelaw Advisors will host the annual Law School Fair for students interested in attending law school. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet with representatives from approximately 90 ABA approved law schools (including all law schools in Texas), and learn about admissions, financing, course offerings, student life, program reputation, with the opportunity to gain application fee waivers.H-E-B Student Union, Ballroom (HSU 1.104), Main Campus
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