The Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CSCRC) announced at CSIRO’s D61+ LIVE event in Sydney on October 2 it has launched a major research project to extend the country’s sovereign advantage in autonomous and active defence in conjunction with Canberra-based Penten, and the CSIRO’s Data61 digital specialist arm.
A joint release says the project will provide Penten with access to Data61’s artificial intelligence (AI) research expertise. It said the research will focus on extending Penten’s work on applying AI to turn the tables on cyber attackers by using deception technology like ‘cyber traps’ and ‘decoys’, part of an emerging category of cyber security defence.
“This is a significant announcement for the Australian cyber research community,” CSCRC’s CEO Rachael Falk said in a statement. “The collaboration brings together one of Australia’s most innovative companies with our national science agency to collaborate on solving challenging problems in our field.
“The CSCRC continues to focus on industry led research, bringing the best scientific and engineering minds together to create tomorrow’s commercial opportunities,” she added. “Strong cyber security is critical for our economy and for Australia’s prosperity.
“The CSCRC’s primary focus is collaboration with academia, industry and government to deliver industry-driven cyber security outcomes. We want our research and work to have an impact benefitting Australia both now and well into the future. We are excited by the opportunities this collaboration presents.”
As part of the announcement, the three organisations are seeking to fill two Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship positions, and are offering five PhD scholarships of up to $50,000 to work on applying AI and machine learning to create deceptive and plausible computer systems and data.
Penten was established in 2015 and has grown to over 75 employees. The company has developed AI tools that generate and update decoy and trap documents, military radio communications, Wi-Fi access points and active network hosts.
“Unlike what you see on ‘CSI’, it is hard to detect intrusions and data theft,” Penten CEO Matthew Wilson said. “Not because traditional systems are incapable, but because criminals and people with malicious intent are always looking for new ways to hide their actions in the noise of everyday computer activity. Even when we do find something, traditional tools don’t often tell us ‘who’ or ‘why’.
“We have been exploring how to fight back against these attackers by interspersing decoy computers and data amongst real assets,” Wilson added. “Because they don’t have any real value, the decoys act as digital tripwires. We discover the attackers and learn more about them by capturing their actions, observing what they choose to interact with and placing homing beacons in the decoys.
Data61 conducts research in AI-driven security solutions. Dr Surya Nepal, Senior Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO’s Data61 and Security Automation and Orchestration team leader at CSCRC said the partnership could help Australia create new technologies that can reach global scale.
“As cyber threats increase in volume and sophistication, AI and machine learning offer an opportunity to assist overwhelmed human defenders and speed up decision making and response,” Dr Nepal said. “It also allows us to deliver more agile defences in a way that we were not able to before.
“Cyber security is a critically important area of research, and Data61 is looking to partner with industry to do similar work that builds a competitive advantage for Australian companies,” he added.