Advanced Cyber Security Center Helps Level the Cyber Playing Field

October 31, 2012

Molly Manchenton

Editor's Note: October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security. The theme, "Our Shared Responsibility," reflects MITRE's approach to the cybersecurity guidance we provide to our government sponsors.

Computer networks underpin almost every critical aspect of our lives—schools, banks, government systems, and power grids, as well as the military and intelligence systems that keep our country safe. Every day, attackers—working on their own, or with backing from organized crime syndicates, hostile governments, or others—seek new ways to infiltrate these networks, testing the cybersecurity systems in place. As the attackers grow craftier, the defenders must respond in kind.

From its offices at MITRE in Bedford, Mass., the Advanced Cyber Security Center (ACSC) is developing innovative ways to identify, analyze, and respond to cyber threats. The ACSC, the first cross-sector consortium in New England dedicated to addressing the complexities of cybersecurity, works with such members as Akamai Technologies, Biogen Idec, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and Boston University to take a "neighborhood watch" approach to cyber defense.

This approach enables its 27 members to share with one another details about indicators of potential compromise from cyber attacks, as well as tactics, techniques, and procedures used by attackers and effective defense strategies to counter them. With enough information, the ACSC can detect patterns of malicious intent before they develop into large-scale attacks.

"Our experience tells us that with cyber threats, the success or failure of the attempt isn't as important as the details about the attempt itself," says Gary Gagnon, MITRE senior vice president and chief security officer. He refers to the neighborhood watch model to explain: For a homeowner, knowing about attempted break-ins in a neighborhood is in many ways more useful than knowing whether the intruders succeeded. The homeowner can use the information to ensure that his property is secure.

"We think these neighborhood watch-type programs are the future of cyber defense," Gagnon says. "They have the potential to balance the equation between attackers and defenders."

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