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White Paper: Dynamic Digital Asset Protection Techniques(1)

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The Case for Dynamic Digital Asset Protection Techniques Christian Collberg Department of Computer Science University of Arizona collberg@cs.arizona.edu June 1, 2011 Abstract Static defenses of digital assets, however clever, will eventually fall to the powers of determined adversaries. In this paper we will argue that defenses that dynamically adjust themselves to new attack scenarios have a much higher chance of long-term survival. 1 Introduction Military history teaches us that no static defense will stand up to attacks from a determined adversary. During World War II, highly mobile German forces simply walked around or flew over the stationary French Maginot Line. The Chinese Wall, similarly, fell in 1644 to an insider attack: enraged that his concubine Chen Yuanyuan had been taken by the emperor Li Zicheng, General Wu Sangui opened the gates to the wall at Shenhaiguan to let in Manchu soldiers. The realization that all static defenses are ultimately futile is perhaps best summed up in the words of General Patton: "Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man [13]." Military forces that have employed dynamic defenses have been much more successful. During the Gulf war, for example, instead of stationary rocket launchers, Iraqi forces used mobile transporter-erector- launcher trucks to move Scud missiles around. As a result, "even in the face of intense efforts to find and destroy them, the mobile launchers proved remarkably elusive and survivable [8]." Like military commanders, nature itself has discovered that in order to survive, every organism needs to outrun or out-evolve its predators. For example, the Pronghorn antelope (at a top speed of 98 km/h) can outrun the mountain lion (64 km/h). Similarly, a fruit fly will execute a series of unpredictable 90 degree turns (each in less than 50 milliseconds) in order to avoid being caught. The theory of evolution itself is an exercise in dynamic defenses: as predators evolve larger fangs and sharper claws, their pray evolve faster legs and thicker exoskeletons. In this paper we will see that the lessons from military history and the natural world also carry over into defending the virtual world [6]. Polymorphic computer viruses, for example, continuously mutate their code in order to avoid detection by virus scanners. Furthermore, computer virus writers continuously evolve their mutation algorithms in response to advances in virus detection. To stay ahead of the game, writers of virus detectors must continuously monitor the advances of their adversaries and evolve more accurate detection algorithms. Thus, to ensure long-lasting defenses against attack from persistent adversaries, speed, agility, unpre- dictability, vigilant monitoring, defense in depth, and renewability of defenses are all necessary [5]. We illustrate this in Figure 1. Here, an asset (which can be anything from a person's personal wealth, to a com- puter program, to an mp3 music file, to a country) is under attack from an adversary who has access to a set 1

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