The state of network security today is quite abysmal. Security breaches and downtime of critical infrastructures continue to be the norm rather than the exception, despite the dramatic rise in spending on network security.

Attackers today can easily leverage a distributed and programmable infrastructure of compromised machines (or botnets) to launch large-scale and sophisticated attack campaigns. In contrast, the defenders of our critical infrastructures are fundamentally crippled as they rely on fixed capacity, inflexible, and expensive hardware appliances deployed at designated “chokepoints”. These primitive defense capabilities force defenders into adopting weak and static security postures configured for simple and known attacks, or otherwise risk user revolt, as they face unpleasant tradeoffs between false positives and false negatives. Unfortunately, attacks can easily evade these defenses; e.g., piggybacking on popular services (e.g., drive-by-downloads) and by overloading the appliances. Continuing along this trajectory means that attackers will always hold the upper hand as defenders are stifled by the inflexible and impotent tools in their arsenal.

The goal of our research is to  change the dynamics of this attack-defense equation. Instead of taking a conventional approach of developing attack-specific defenses, our work  focuses on empowering defenders with the right tools and abstractions to tackle the constantly evolving attack landscape. To this end, we envision a new software-defined approach to network security, where we can rapidly develop and deploy novel in-depth defenses and dynamically customize the network’s security posture to the current operating context.

In this talk, I will give an overview of our recent work in this space.

Vyas Sekar is an Assistant Professor in the ECE Department at Carnegie Mellon University, where he is part of CyLab. His research interests lie at the intersection of networking, security, and systems. He received his Ph.D. from the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University in 2010. He earned his bachelor's degree from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, where he was awarded the President of India Gold Medal. His work has been recognized with the NSF CAREER award, multiple best paper awards (ACM SIGCOMM, ACM CoNext, and  ACM Multimedia), and the CSAW Applied Security Research Prize.