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Cyber-diversity

Computer scientists are investigating mimicking nature in an effort to make it harder to hack into computers and networks. Learn how on this Moment of Science.

Computer scientists are investigating mimicking nature in an effort to make it harder to hack into computers and networks.

When a computer virus wipes out all the computers in a workplace, it’s most likely because all the computers run on the same software. Because they share the same flaws, if you can hack into one, you can hack into them all.

This happens in nature too. A virus exploits the same vulnerability in a genetically similar group and wipes everyone out.

Luckily, because of random mutations in our genes, most species exhibit enough genetic variation, or biodiversity, that a disease that kills one member won’t necessarily kill the next. That’s why computer scientists are trying to create a computerized version of biodiversity, which they’re calling cyber-diversity.

Scientists are currently researching various ways to automatically and randomly modify software in slightly different ways without changing the overall functionality. To users like us, the computers would seem the same, but hackers would have to treat computers on a case-by-case basis.

Even in nature, viruses mutate. That’s why the flu keeps coming back year after year. Just like hackers. Still, the National Science Foundation is investing $750,000 in cyber-diversity. Think of it as evolution in fast forward.

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