New Biomimicry in Digital Security - Ants Swarm to Protect Computers

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Photo via Axel Rouvin via Flickr CC

We have viruses and worms that infect our computers, reflections of nature in our digital world that are anything but pleasant. Now we might get another dash of nature in our computers, this time coming to the rescue. Computer security experts are devising ways to protect our computers by mimicking ants and how they swarm when defending their turf. Science Daily reports that biomimicry is playing a key role in upcoming computer security technology. By looking at the way ants call for backup and overpower invaders through sheer quantity of soldiers, security experts have devised a "digital ant" that will help human operators more quickly spot threats to computer systems.

Unlike traditional security devices, which are static, these "digital ants" wander through computer networks looking for threats, such as "computer worms" -- self-replicating programs designed to steal information or facilitate unauthorized use of machines. When a digital ant detects a threat, it doesn't take long for an army of ants to converge at that location, drawing the attention of human operators who step in to investigate.

Swarm intelligence is used in other technical areas, including smart buildings. The "hive mind" of bees is the inspiration for self-organizing equipment in smart buildings for energy efficiency. That same ability of ants to rapidly mobilize is what inspired researchers for the next level of computer defense.

Professor of Computer Science Errin Fulp, an expert in security and computer networks, explains, "Our idea is to deploy 3,000 different types of digital ants, each looking for evidence of a threat," Fulp says. "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."

So far, experiments with the digital ants have been successful. The technology fits best for large computer networks for corporations or universities. One day soon, we may just owe the safety of our computers to the often underestimated ant.