Out Thinking the Smartest Threats

It’s fair to say that our three labs are engaged in fundamental research. Another way of putting it is that they are trying to overcome serious obstacles, or even out-think a dedicated opponent. Our CIS Lab is working within the context of cyber threats. Our MEI Lab is in a long-term fight against disease and sickness. The PHI Lab is confronting computational problems that have never been solved.

Because of cryptography’s association with wartime – think of Alan Turing, depicted in The Imitation Game – it may be easiest to see the CIS Lab’s work in these fighting terms. Even in a time of peace, bad actors are hard at work, thinking up new ways to exploit trust and steal data. That’s one of the takeaways from the latest release of NTT Ltd.’s 2020 Global Threat Intelligence Report (GTIR).

Drawn from a vast array of data that includes validated attack events, the 2020 GTIR surveys the cybersecurity landscape, with threats aggregated globally and broken down by region. This year’s high-level insights include evidence that threats are innovating, in effect, getting smarter. Malware that is powerful enough on its own has combined with vulnerability scanners to extend their reach and impact. Current attacks are also clearly opportunistic, taking advantage of security vulnerabilities created by the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Phishing attacks leveraging COVID-19 started in mid-January. Thousands of websites went up posing as official information sources, but actually hosted exploit kits and malware. Open redirects also pushed malware into an affected system, promoting downloads allegedly from the World Health Organization. There have even been cyberattacks on healthcare and support organizations, which led NTT Ltd.’s Security Division to offer free incident response from its Digital Forensics and Incident Response experts for healthcare institutions experiencing cybersecurity attacks during this pandemic.

While our MEI Lab, like our other two labs, is working on a long-term horizon, no one is entirely removed from current threats and challenges. As recently hired Distinguished Scientist Joe Alexander discusses in this Q&A, the MEI Lab’s vision of a bio digital twin is relevant to “the variety of complex presentations of patients infected with COVID-19.”

After detailing some of these complex presentations, Dr. Alexander notes: “In a future world where all patients have bio digital twins, it will be easier to examine patients virtually – using their twins – to determine what unique factors may influence their course of illness.” (For one visualization of the bio digital twin concept, watch our Upgrade Reality short film.)

The GTIR recommends a strategy of resilience. Fundamental research is one more way of gaining resilience, by thinking ahead of cyber, medical and other adversaries.