Security Research Laboratory and Education Center

The world-class research center at Purdue University is getting serious about cutting edge development of security related projects.

Keeping the bandits out is not the only reason you will need educated security experts to maintain your system in the future. What will happen when the demand for security administrators is so high your firm cannot afford them? Or if the total development cost for secure software is more than the debt in the U.S. alone? Your answer to my last question may be, “We will use open-source code”--good point! However, you will still need experienced security personnel to maintain your system.

As most of the industry is struggling to prepare their systems for the year 2000, academia is facing the problem of educating enough computer scientists. Government reports predict that in the year 2000, on-line commerce in the U.S. alone will exceed 15 billion dollars per year, and the sales of security software will exceed two billion dollars per year. The need for increased training and research in information security will only expand in the coming years as the use of wide-area computer networks spreads.

Fighting Information Warfare with Education

As computer crime is increasing, Purdue University in Indiana is addressing the issue. For the last seven years, the Purdue Computer Science Department has been the home of the Computer Operations, Audit and Security Technology (COAST) laboratory. COAST is one of the largest academic research groups and graduate studies laboratories in practical computer and network security in the world. The laboratory is expanding into a newly established center.

Purdue's University Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security (CERIAS as in “serious”) is a pioneer in the area of information security. This new university center was designed to educate the next generation of computer and network security specialists. With projects encompassing Linux, Solaris, Windows 95/NT, smart cards, iButtons, biometrics, ATM networks and firewalls, their research will work toward the goal of reducing the threat of so-called information warfare.

One of a Kind

The director of the laboratory and of the newly founded center, Professor Gene Spafford, is a computer scientist who has been a major contributor to the discipline of information security. Spafford is an ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) fellow and has written several books on information security. He also helped to analyze and contain the Internet worm in 1998. Together with 15 faculty members and 40 graduate and undergraduate students (see Figure 1), he is steering the center toward a common goal: to provide world-class research and education in information security.

Figure 1. Professors, staff and students in the COAST/CERIAS facility at Purdue University

Currently, the faculty and students are drawn heavily from the computer science area. However, the center is opening its doors to a diversity of disciplines (e.g., philosophy, linguistics, political science, industrial engineering, management, sociology and electrical and computer engineering).

Figure 2. The Graduate Student COAST Laboratory

The laboratory (see Figure 2) and the new center have attracted professors and students from 13 countries. One reason is that there are few highly competent academic security laboratories with industry support. The diversity does not end with nationality—almost 40 percent of the students are female. Security has drawn the interest of women since the early days, and the number of female students has been increasing steadily in the last few years.

The research includes audit trails format and reduction, network protection, firewall and software evaluation, creation of a vulnerabilities database and testing. Additionally, several undergraduate projects dealing with authentication and security archive are in progress. The main COAST projects are described briefly below.

A Different Approach to Intrusion Detection

Intrusion Detection (ID) is a field within computer security that has grown rapidly over the last few years. The AAFID (autonomous agents for intrusion detection) project in the COAST laboratory is about intrusion detection.

Traditional intrusion detection systems (IDS) collect data from one or more hosts and process the data in a central machine to detect anomalous behavior. This approach has a problem in that it prevents scaling of the IDS to a large number of machines, due to the storage and processing limitations of the host that performs the analysis.

The AAFID architecture uses many independent entities, called “autonomous agents”, working simultaneously to perform distributed intrusion detection. Each agent monitors certain aspects of a system and reports strange behavior or occurrences of specific events. For example, one agent may look for bad permissions on system files, another agent may look for bad configurations of an FTP server, and yet another may look for attempts to perform attacks by corrupting the ARP (address resolution protocol) cache of the machine.

The results produced by the agents are collected on a per-machine level, permitting the correlation of events reported by different agents that may be caused by the same attack. Furthermore, reports produced by each machine are aggregated at a higher (per-network) level, allowing the system to detect attacks involving multiple machines.

Figure 3. The Agent Window of the AAFID Prototype

Figure 4. The Main Window of the AAFID Prototype

The AAFID group consists of ten graduate and undergraduate students within the COAST laboratory. A prototype implementation (see Figures 3 and 4) can be found on the AAFID project web page at



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i will do the my carrier in computer security

nilesh kothekar's picture

my self nilesh namdeorao kothekar. in india i am studying in diploma in computer engineering, and i will create a my carrier in computer security in linux. then please guidance me. What are i doing....