Dutch researchers build security software to mimic human immune system

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Dutch research institute TNO, in collaboration with various partners, has developed self-healing security software.  

This software is based on the functioning of the human immune system, based on the concept that by mimicking the human regeneration process in IT systems, cyber attacks can be averted much more quickly.  

Cyber security is high on the agenda at almost all Dutch organisations. While it is difficult to completely protect a company’s systems, cyber criminals only need one weak spot and can’t afford a single a slip. This means that criminals are, by definition, one up.

Bart Gijsen is a consultant at TNO and involved in the self-healing project team in the Partnership for Cyber Security Innovation (PCSI). “Every time the attacker comes up with something new, the victim has to find a defence mechanism, and once new protection is found, the attacker comes up with a way to crack that again,” he said of the cyber security rat race.  

To break through this, TNO and various Dutch banks and insurance companies had already been working on possible new approaches to cyber security for some time. “At PCSI partner Achmea, one person who started working there as an enterprise architect was Rogier Reemer, and he originally graduated as an immunologist,” said Gijsen. 

Reemer saw all kinds of parallels with the human immune system in the field of cyber security and then held a presentation about it in his organisation. “At the same time, at another partner in the PCSI programme, they had come to the conclusion that the current way of looking at cyber defence would never be able to overcome the deficit in the fight against cyber criminals,” he said. “They wanted to look at security in a fundamentally different way.”

The strength of the cooperation in the PCSI lies in bringing different parties together to inspire and learn from each other. “We sat down together and asked TNO experts in the field of ICT and microbiology to contribute ideas.”

Adaptive IT 

The idea of autonomic computing was first presented by IBM in 2003, in which they wanted to let the system manage ICT networks as autonomously as possible.

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