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New Lab Will Let Researchers Conduct Virtual Attacks

Iowa State University is building a center that will let researchers conduct computer attacks and see how well security tools work in thwarting those attacks.
Iowa State University is preparing to deep-freeze hackers. With a grant of about $500,000 from the Department of Justice, the university will begin building the Internet-Scale Event and Attack Generation Environment, or ISEAGE (pronounced Ice Age), an Internet lab where virtual battlefields will be created. Researchers can conduct computer attacks just as if they occurred over the Internet and test how well security tools work at thwarting those attacks.

"ISEAGE gives us a chance to play out attacks and try complex attacks that you wouldn't be able to attempt on the real Internet or infrastructure," says Doug Jacobson, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State and director of the lab.

Key areas of security exploration will include protecting computer-controlled critical government and private infrastructures such as power grids, transportation, and water systems from large-scale coordinated attacks, such as those launched by attackers working simultaneously from countries around the globe. "We'll have the ability to launch highly distributed attacks and see the affects these attacks could have on related systems and resources," Jacobson says. He adds that ISEAGE will have the capability to study attacks with thousands or tens of thousands attack points, while a normal lab typically can only study a few attack points.

The lab will also be used to test the effectiveness of new and existing security systems and to develop new crime-tracking forensic tools. At first, more than 30 Iowa State faculty members will use the lab. The grant money is just the beginning of the needed funding, says Jacobson, who estimates that the total cost of the lab will be $3 million to $5 million. Located at the ISU Research Park, ISEAGE will begin operations early next year, with the goal of becoming fully operational in early 2005.