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Cyber Attacks and Defenses: Trends, Challenges, and Outlook

Michael Franz: Distinguished Professor, University of California, Irvine and Director of its Secure Systems and Software Laboratory

Event Details

Thursday, November 16, 2023
4-5 p.m.

Abstract: A cyber attacker needs to find only one way in, while defenders need to guard a lot of ground. Adversaries can fully debug and perfect their attacks on their own computers, exactly replicating the environment that they will later be targeting. This is the situation today, which has been exacerbated by an increasing trend towards a software "monoculture," in which there are only two major desktop operating systems, two major phone operating systems, one major office software suite, and so on.

One possible defense is based on making the targets more dissimilar from each other, which raises the cost to attackers since they need to adapt their attack to each specific target. An alternative defense is based on creating a model of what a "correct" program does, and enforcing that model at run-time. I will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these two approaches and their evolution over the past two decades. Unfortunately, attackers are evolving too, resulting in a "cat and mouse" situation in which defenses are almost always reactive to attacks that have already been observed.

I will discuss my vision of how to get ahead of the attackers, and close by stating why, in spite of the bleak situation today, I am confident that we will eventually be able to stop most kinds of low-level cyber attacks completely.

Bio: Michael Franz is a Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) and the director of its Secure Systems and Software Laboratory. He is a Professor of Computer Science in UCI's Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences and a Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (by courtesy) in UCI's Henry Samueli School of Engineering. He is a Fellow of the AAAS, ACM, IEEE, and IFIP, a recipient of ACM's Charles P. Thacker Breakthrough in Computing Award, the IEEE Computer Society's Technical Achievement Award, and a Humboldt Research Award.

Prof. Franz was an early pioneer in the areas of mobile code and dynamic compilation. He created an early just-in-time compilation system, contributed to the theory and practice of continuous compilation and optimization, and co-invented the trace compilation technology that eventually became the JavaScript engine in Mozilla’s Firefox browser. His pioneering contributions to computer security include moving-target defenses inspired by biodiversity in nature, and automated multivariant execution. He has graduated 36 Ph.D. students as their primary advisor. Franz received a Dr. sc. techn. degree in Computer Science and a Dipl. Informatik-Ing. ETH degree, both from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH Zurich.