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"A unique structure that paves the way for high quality scientific work"

José M. Fernandez

Interview with José M. Fernandez, Assistant Professor at the Department of Computer Engineering and Software Engineering at the Polytechnic School of Montreal. He directs a unit similar to the High-Security Computing Laboratory at the Polytechnic School of Montreal, namely the Information Systems Security Research Laboratory (known by its French acronym SecSI).

Why is it necessary to conduct computer security experiments, particularly in an environment such as the High-Security Computing Laboratory?

José M. Fernandez: Computer security is a relatively new scientific field. The "hacker" mentality defines those who attack systems as much as it does those who look to defend them. And, like in any war, the victor is the one who, as Sun Tzu said, makes "the best calculations. " In other words, the person who is best at predicting the consequences of their choices.

In the realm of security, this means being capable of predicting and measuring as accurately as possible the effectiveness of attack parameters, on the one hand, and the effectiveness of the counter-measures deployed, on the other. It is often difficult to model everything and not very practical or even very wise to use the "real world" to obtain these measurements. It is therefore necessary to use laboratory testing. In this way, with reliable forecasts, it becomes possible to determine which measures will be most effective. We can then optimise the solutions to be delivered by considering issues such as cost, loss of performance, etc. that these counter-measures give rise to.

Why do computer security researchers need a facility such as the High-Security Computing Laboratory?

José M. Fernandez:  The experiments carried out in this field often involve the use of sensitive data, such as the configurations of critical systems, or potentially dangerous tools (malware, advanced piracy tools, etc.). It is therefore necessary to protect installations where this type of testing is carried out. These installations must have a large amount of equipment, special software and, in particular, very highly specialised personnel. The aim is to achieve realistic test conditions in terms of scale (several thousands of machines emulated) and variety of behaviours. This ranges from the variety of configurations of machines that can be found on the Internet to the different types of user behaviour. All of these parameters have a major impact on the security of systems.

Unfortunately, very few researchers in the field have grasped this yet. Most researchers are still following a scientific approach that does not satisfy these demands. Assessments of the performance of developed solutions often lack rigour and use poorly suited methods (testing in restricted laboratory conditions, testing on real production systems, etc.).

A facility such as the LHS is virtually unique in the community. It paves the way for the highest quality and most comprehensive scientific work in the field of computer security. I can only congratulate the researchers and partners who are making this possible and offering science the right conditions for progress. Well done to them!

Keywords: Laboratory Software Anti-virus Virus Attack Botnet Security