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K-State Today

May 10, 2012

Cybersecurity model may benefit a new cloud-based network for businesses

Submitted by Communications and Marketing

Think of a business' computer network as the parking lot of Walmart, said Xinming "Simon" Ou, associate professor of computing and information sciences at Kansas State University. On the average day the lot never reaches its maximum capacity for cars. On Black Friday and around Christmas, however, the lot does.

"The same thing happens with a retailer's computer system during Christmas or for a tax preparation company's system around April; that's when the most people are going to use that service at the same time," Ou said. "Because of those few times in the year, each business has to build up a network large enough to handle those peak times. It's no different than those few days out of the year when everybody goes to Walmart."

Consequently, each business has to individually invest in hardware, software and human resources to maintain the network and its infrastructure. This requires a large fiscal commitment from business owners, especially when a large percentage of their network will not be used most days out of the year.

Creating a moving-target defense -- computer networks that could defend against cyber attacks by automatically changing their configuration to close security holes -- may also help develop a fundamental change in how computer networks are hosted, Ou said.

A company could forgo the continual maintenance, upgrade and security costs in favor of having a third party vendor in cloud computing to host a network. The cloud provider could allocate more bandwidth to websites when it is needed during those peak times, rather than every individual network having to maintain their peak capacities at all times. According to Ou, this will significantly reduce costs for business owners who can focus on their business without having to maintain an information technology work force.

"The key economic benefit from a cloud system is its elasticity to meet the changing needs by expanding and shrinking a hosted network, which requires the fundamental building block of a moving-target network," Ou said. "It then makes sense that a cloud-hosted business network adopt moving-target technologies that naturally combine more flexible business and better security. The metrics we're looking at in our moving-target defense research could make this an appealing business model because this additional layer of security could be taken care of in the cloud."