New cybersecurity system offers better protection against hacking and censorship

Friday, March 8, 2019

A new cybersecurity system developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo has a set a new standard in the fight to protect people from malicious online attacks.   

The new tool, a naming system called Bitforest, is one of the first systems that provides an efficient method of decentralized, online security in a way that is easy for the average person to use. The naming system converts more easily remembered names, such as usernames and domain names, to values like public keys needed for securely communicating with computer services and devices.

The system offers two main features, policy enforcement and identity retention. Identity retention, which prevents identity theft, relies on blockchain technology. The second feature allows for better policy enforcement by placing greater controls into who can input information into the naming system.

“This could have important implications as the world moves towards more interconnected devices such as autonomous vehicles, smart watches and smart homes as we continue to expand the Internet of Things (IoT),” said Raouf Boutaba, co-author of the study and a professor in Waterloo’s David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science, in the Faculty of Mathematics. “IoT devices are going to be everywhere, and they control very sensitive parts of our personal and professional lives with 75 billion such devices projected to be deployed by 2025. The security of these devices is going to be extremely important.

“This particular system will extremely useful in the software updating process, which is when systems are most vulnerable, by providing greater oversight into how those updates can occur and by whom.”

Bitforest, which relies on public blockchains like Bitcoin for security and a central server to enforce policy, achieves decentralized trust and security as strong as existing blockchain-based naming systems. It also retains most of the flexibility and performance of centralized Public Key Infrastructure, allowing validating thin clients to look up and verify name bindings with comparable efficiency to traditional systems. 

A paper describing the system, titled Bitforest: a Portable and Efficient Blockchain-Based Naming System, which was co-authored by Boutaba, Yuhao Dong and Woojung Kim, Waterloo’s Computer Science doctoral and master’s students respectively, recently appeared in the Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Network and Service Management.

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