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Researchers announce plans for security solution that traps cyber criminals in a virtual network

A woman sitting at computer screens

Researchers are developing a new cyber-security deception solution that uses artificial intelligence to lure hackers away and prevent breaches of network systems.

Cybercriminal activity costs the UK billions of pounds annually and according to the Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2020 almost half of businesses reported having cyber security breaches or attacks in the last 12 months.

The ‘Lupovis’ solution under development by the team at the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for Intelligent and Dynamic Communications makes the hunter become the hunted.

Sophisticated narrative

Once an attacker has penetrated a network, the system entices them by creating a sophisticated narrative designed to make the hacker believe they are successfully accessing and progressing through the system.

Lupovis, an amalgamation for the Latin words for wolf (lupus) and sheep (ovis), also offers the attacker incentives and steers them in a certain path.

The team is in the process of creating a Strathclyde spin-out company to commercialise the system focusing on critical infrastructures, starting with the energy sector as an initial market as a way of protecting energy supplies.

Cyber protection

They received funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Cyber Security Academic Start-ups Accelerator Programme, which aims to translate academic research in cyber protection to commercial opportunities. It is delivered in partnership with Innovate UK and Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN).

UK Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said:

We have some of the best cyber research institutions on the planet and this is a great example of the UK leading the world in cutting-edge cyber innovation.

The government's CyberASAP programme provides funding and support to help academics turn their research into market-ready solutions that help keep people and businesses across the country secure and resilient against cyber criminals."

Principal investigator and entrepreneur Dr Xavier Bellekens from the University of Strathclyde, said: “A successful breach can cost a company millions of pounds in terms of loss revenue, can compromise trust and cause reputational damage. After a hack, it can take a company up to hundreds of days to get back to full operation.

“Our solution provides an offensive deception environment, which engages with the attacker from the minute the attacker moves within the network.

“Lupovis deploys decoys to engage with the attacker when a breach occurs.

“These decoys lure the attacker away from the assets, whether it be personal data or sensitive information, or hackers trying to shut down the system to damage business continuity. “

Artificial intelligence

The system uses Artificial Intelligence to create scenarios which lures the attacker into believing they are progressing towards assets, but which mirror the existing infrastructure. In reality, the cyber-criminal’s breach into the network is being monitored by the company’s Security Operations Centre.

 Dr Bellekens added: “Hackers are highly sophisticated and skilled, and so for Lupovis to succeed we need to build a convincing narrative.

“The system engages and understands their next moves through the network and what their behaviour patterns are, to divert them away from valuable assets and arrest the breach effectively.

“We respond to their behaviour and skills level by using incentives and gamifying vulnerabilities.

“The gamification aspect is important as you need to keep offering incentives if you want them to move down a particular path.

“The longer we keep them engaged, the longer we are keeping them away from assets and are blocking the malicious actions that would stop the network functioning, maintaining business and operational continuity.”

The team say the software actually keeps on learning and becomes more accurate as more data is collected by the system.

Professor Ivan Andonovic from Strathclyde, who will be a Director of the spin out company, said:

There are currently no similar solutions, as decoys are usually static and once a decoy is exploited by a cyber-criminal, they can continue moving towards valuable assets in the network.

Lupovis offers a dynamic system turning networks from a flock of sheep to a pack of predators.”

 The team behind Lupovis also reached the semi-final of this year’s  ‘Converge Challenge’  for academic entrepreneurs, and secured support from CENSIS, Scotland's Innovation Centre for Sensing, Imaging and Internet of Things as well as receiving support from Scottish Enterprise.