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Administrative control

The future Internet environment is likely to be increasingly dependent on an agent-based model of computing, with significant implications for Internet security. Agents are executable software objects with executions that are not tied to any specific host or computing resource or to any geographical or logical network location. Agents perform computation and communication defined by a user, but the execution platforms are typically outside the user's administrative control (and outside the administrative control of the user's organization). The conceptual model of agent operation is one in which an intelligent agent, at the request of a user, goes to one or more remote hosts to perform a computation or gather information and then returns to the user with the result. An agent's mode of operation may range from partially to fully autonomous, and the degree to which an agent is autonomous may vary throughout the life of that agent.

A future agent-based computing environment may include features such as these:


  • Agents share information and cooperate to complete the user's task.
  • Agents protect themselves with intrinsic security mechanisms but also depend on some measure of extrinsic security provided by the infrastructure and cooperating agents.
  • Since most of an agent's activity takes place outside the user's domain of administrative control (and hence outside any firewall designed to protect the user), the traditional firewall has little to contribute to security.
  • Replication and agent diversity provide increased survivability while under attack and under conditions of degraded or uncertain infrastructure support.
  • Agents communicate to enhance the detection of threats. Specialized sensor agents are specifically designed to detect particular types of threats, and groups of diverse sensor agents provide the entire agent "collective" with a comprehensive profile of current threats.
  • The agent-supported infrastructure protects itself and takes defensive action without user intervention.
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