Penten, Data61 to advance cyber decoy research

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Thursday, 03 October, 2019

Penten, Data61 to advance cyber decoy research

Canberra-based cybersecurity company Penten will team up with CSIRO’s Data61 to sponsor research into the field of autonomous and active defence capabilities using deception technologies.

Under the research partnership, five PhD scholarships of up to $50,000 per year will be offered to support research into applying AI and machine learning to further Penten’s existing work on applying AI to turn the tables on cyber attackers.

This involves using deception technology such as cyber traps and decoys to draw out attackers and help limit their impact on their victims.

Data61 will provide its AI research expertise for the project. Penten, Data61 and the Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CSCRC) are also looking to fill two Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship positions in support of the project.

“This is a significant announcement for the Australian cyber research community,” commented Rachael Falk, CEO of the CSCRC.

“The collaboration brings together one of Australia’s most innovative companies with our national science agency to collaborate on solving challenging problems in our field. The CSCRC continues to focus on industry-led research, bringing the best scientific and engineering minds together to create tomorrow’s commercial opportunities.”

Penten CEO Matthew Wilson said the company has been seeking to use technology to make it easier to detect intrusions and data theft among the noise of everyday computer activity.

“We have been exploring how to fight back against these attackers by interspersing decoy computers and data amongst real assets. Because they don’t have any real value, the decoys act as digital tripwires,” he said.

“We discover the attackers and learn more about them by capturing their actions, observing what they choose to interact with and placing homing beacons in the decoys.”

Cyber traps are most effective when the content is realistic, enticing and does not interfere with legitimate use of network and computing resources, but making these traps by hand is a difficult and time-consuming process, Wilson said.

“Our solutions use artificial intelligence to learn the patterns of activity and content from surrounding computers and data,” he said.

“We then use this information to create realistic and believable mimics. This means we can deliver suitable content extremely efficiently, tailored to a customer environment and with minimal effort on the part of the defender.”

In its four years of operation, Penten has already grown to over 75 employees and developed a series of AI tools that generate and update decoy and trap documents, military radiocommunications, Wi-Fi access points and active network hosts.

Data61’s Dr Surya Nepal said the organisation is excited about the partnership’s potential to help Australia create transformative cybersecurity technologies that can reach global scale.

“As cyber threats increase in volume and sophistication, AI and machine learning offer an opportunity to assist overwhelmed human defenders and speed up decision-making and response. It also allows us to deliver more agile defences in a way that we were not able to before,” he said.

“Cybersecurity is a critically important area of research, and Data61 is looking to partner with industry to do similar work that builds a competitive advantage for Australian companies.

Image credit: ©

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