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Saturday, October 09, 2004

Masquerading Attacks, Roy A. Maxion and The Ego Trip

A few weeks ago, Roy Maxion of Carnegie Mellon was here at Chalmers University to talk about his recent paper on Masquerading Attacks. But wait, what is masquerading?

The term, masquerading, is usually used in context with Network Address Translation (NAT) but in more abstract terms it means "to wear a mask or to disguise." Related to computer security, one idea of handling masquerading attacks is to note down a user behavior and compare it with his past. A simple idea may make things clear. Suppose, I have designed an authentication system that notes down users' typing speed. In such a system even if you know my password, you might not be able to login because your typing speed won't match mine.

People have habits and most of us are very predictable. This concept of security can be extended further to note any "diversion" from normal behavior. For example, a user might have the habit of checking his email as the first step after logging in. A computer system might detect any diversion from this habit and report the matter to system administrator. Computer Science students will at once recognize that it will require huge amount of data to note anything even as simple as that and it would be very error-prone. Still, research is being done in this field to improve the detection of positive cases and to decrease false alarms.

So, what did Roy Maxion say? Nothing! I was so eager to listen to this man, not only because the idea of using "user behavior" in security is interesting and he had used a new Bayesian Algorithm for categorization but also because he is the head of Dependable Systems at Carnegie Mellon. For two hours, this guy talked about how good his research has been and how silly mistakes the other researchers had made. He didn't say a single word about his algorithm. He repeated the same thing so many times that he reminded me of the lectures at FAST.

At the end, somebody asked Danko Ilik, "How was it?" "This guy was on an ego-trip," came the reply. And the worst thing is that he was traveling through various universities in Europe, saying the same useless things over and over again! I fail to understand how can such a high-profile person do this? Wasting resources and time of so many students and teachers...

But do I have a point to make? No, this is an incomplete post. For quite a few days I waited for it to be complete but it didn't. Finally, I posted it like that. I will be back after 21st (after exams), Insha Allah.

Councilor Hamann: Of course... that's it. You hit it! That's control, isn't it? If we wanted, we could smash them to bits. Although if we did, we'd have to consider what would happen to our lights, our heat, our air.
Neo: So we need machines and they need us. Is that your point, Councillor?
Councilor Hamann: No, no point. Old men like me don't bother with making points. There's no point.
Neo: Is that why there are no young men on the Council?
Councilor Hamann: Good point.
(The Matrix Reloaded)