Monday, March 8, 2021 – by Daniel Tkacik
School of Computer Science faculty members Lujo Bauer and Matt Fredrikson are part of a research team that won a U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) Award. The team’s project aims to address the challenge of human-bot cybersecurity teams (HBCTs), which are commonly deployed to combat cybersecurity threats and attacks but are not yet well understood.
“While we know a lot about how humans use tools to work in teams, little is known about how to manage, observe and improve hybrid teams that are composed of humans and bots,” reads the project proposal. “The area of team science that involves human-machine teams is still in its infancy.”
Cybersecurity is one of the most challenging tasks that the DoD faces today. A typical human cybersecurity analyst has to deal with a plethora of information, such as intrusion logs, network flows, executables and provenance information for files. Real-time cybersecurity scenarios present even more problems: an active adversarial environment consists of large amounts of information and techniques that neither humans nor machines can handle alone.
Machine learning (ML) bots have become part of these cybersecurity teams to reduce the burden on human analysts by filtering information, freeing up cognitive resources for tasks related to the high-level mission.
The multi-thrust research project will focus on building robust science on HBCTs, including ways to build trust within these hybrid teams, techniques to focus ML bots on cybersecurity-specific tasks, and methods by which HBCTs integrate information to arrive at decisions. The researchers also plan to study how to coordinate HBCTs in the presence of active adversaries who are also adapting to changing decisions.
The team also includes Cleotilde Gonzalez, from CMU’s Department of Social and Decision Sciences, and researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of California San Diego, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Melbourne, Macqurie University, and the University of Newcastle. The team unites diverse expertise spanning computer security, machine learning, psychology, decision sciences and human-computer interaction.
“The science and engineering challenges we face today are highly complex and often intersect more than one scientific discipline,” said Bindu Nair, director of the Basic Research Office in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “MURIs acknowledge these complexities by supporting teams whose members have diverse sets of expertise as well as creative and different approaches to tackling problems. This cross-fertilization of ideas can accelerate research progress to enable more rapid R&D breakthroughs and hasten the transition of basic research finding to practical application. It’s a program that embodies DoD’s legacy of scientific impact.”
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