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December - 2009 - issue > Tech Tracker

Ants Vs Malware: As Ants Turn into Anti-virus

Eureka Bharali
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Eureka Bharali
Does a swarm of ants attacking together sounds creepy? If not for you, it would be for the cyberpunks, who are minting cash through their malware. Researchers are inspired by the ants’ unity and have sketched out anti-virus, which would digitally work like ants to fight computer worms. Unlike traditional security devices, which sit at a fixed drive waiting for a virus to chance upon it, these ‘digital ants’ will wander through computer networks looking for threats. Security devices are designed to defend against known threats. As new variations are discovered and updates issued to counter new malicious codes, the security programs tend to gobble more resources, anti-virus scans take longer, and machines run slower. The digital ants will cast away this nuisance as they improvize on their own on seeing the kind of threat.

Researchers have devised the ‘swarming intelligence’ of real ants into the digitized insects, and as it detects a threat it calls upon its digital army to scrap the virus. “It is programmed to leave behind a stronger scent. Stronger scent trails attract more ants, producing the swarm that would act as a potential computer security,” explains Errin Fulp, a Wake Forest Professor of Computer Science and an expert in security and computer networks. Fulp has expertise in dividing computer data into batches, where each lane is focused on certain threats. And Glenn Fink, a research scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, who initiated the ‘security via insect’ idea, found Fulp’s expertise apt for the project. If this feels to be more like a science fiction, then these researchers will turn it into reality as they plan to deploy 3,000 different digital ants into the networks of all computer systems including yours in the future.

Computer users need not worry since the guarding ants will decide to take up residence in their machine on their own. Digital ants cannot survive without software ‘sentinels’ located at each machine, which in turn report to network ‘sergeants’ monitored by humans who supervise the colony and maintain ultimate control.
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