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Digital Ants Used to Battle Internet Worms

Researchers are looking to change the face of cybersecurity by attacking internet worms before they infest networks and PCs. The idea is to take an offensive front by mimicking the behavior of ants, or rather, their ability to readily adapt to changing threats. The concept, called "swarm intelligence," enables "computer ants" to wander through computer networks looking for threats rather than remaining static, waiting for the offending intruder.

The swarm intelligence was developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Washington, and Wake Forest University, North Carolina. According to Window on Wake Forest, PNNL's Glenn Fink, Wake Forest's Errin Fulp and two graduate students conducted a study over the summer by introducing a worm into a network and then fine tuning the way the digital ants hunt down the invader. Fulp said that large networks are ideal for this type of defense, especially networks used by the government, universities, large corporations and more.

"Our idea is to deploy 3,000 different types of digital ants, each looking for evidence of a threat," explained Fulp. "As they move about the network, they leave digital trails modeled after the scent trails ants in nature use to guide other ants. Each time a digital ant identifies some evidence, it is programmed to leave behind a stronger scent. Stronger scent trails attract more ants, producing the swarm that marks a potential computer infection."

He also said that--unlike static anti-virus programs--digital ants do not consume large amounts of computer resources, nor do they require lengthy, process hogging scans. Because the digital ants adapt to malicious code variants, there's no need to an update; no need for background memory consumption. But unlike real-world ants, these virtual insects won't build a colony on the hard drive.