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Ranty Islam | Biodiversity & ... Ideas

Biodiversity for download

Cress growing between keys of a keyboard

You may soon get some biodiversity for your PC and smartphone (Photo: wetwebwork on flickr, under CC BY-SA 2.0 license)

Biodiversity is good we are told. And that’s why it might be hitting your app store soon. While security software needs to constantly adapt to the latest internet scares, there has so far been no general way to counter viruses and malware messing up your smartphone. Now, scientists are looking to nature for help. Just as a population of species benefits from genetic variety to become more virus-resistant, so can software – in theory anyway.

But computer scientist Michael Franz has outlined how diversity can be introduced into software in an automated fashion and on a large scale. Ideally, this happens right at the source, such as in app stores for smartphones and tablets.

“The point of our solution is that the app store generates the versions,” we were told by Franz, who is a professor at the University of California at Irvine. In current app store models such as for iOS, Android, or MacOSX – downloaded software is uniquely tied to a user via a user ID, he explains. “From here, it is only a small step to use and authenticate different [software versions] for each user.”

The idea is that if a virus needs to adapt to millions of slightly different versions of what is functionally the same program, criminals will have to commit way more time and money to code malware – and as a result will have a lot less enthusiasm doing so.

But if the app store automatically generates slightly different versions for each user, is there a guarantee all of them will work? Franz claims yes, but admits that the very idea of pushing for software diversity undermines what is essentially an article of faith in the software industry.

“Most engineers are absolutely horrified about the idea of anything that isn’t fully predictable and repeatable,” he said. “After all, we are telling people to execute software programs that nobody else has ever executed before. That scares many people.”

Well, we’d say, if that includes criminals – so be it.


May 22, 2014



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