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Software Engineering and System Survivability

Current software engineering methods and practice have had only limited success in managing the intellectual complexity of designing and implementing software. Moreover, in the design of software systems, security concerns are typically an afterthought (addressed through add-ons and software patches) rather than being an integral part of the overall design. This means that software systems of any significant size and complexity are likely to have exploitable security flaws. Because managing the intellectual complexity of software is difficult, up-front security design in products is rare, and detailed knowledge about systems is widespread, systems will be breached in spite of our best efforts to make them invulnerable. Therefore, the concept of information systems security must encompass the specification of systems that exhibit behaviors that contribute to survivability in spite of intrusions. Only then can systems be developed that are robust in the presence of attack and are able to survive attacks that cannot be completely repelled. System survivability is the capacity of a system to continue performing critical functions in a timely manner even if significant portions of the system are incapacitated by attack or accident. We use the term system in the broadest possible sense, which includes networks and large-scale "systems of systems". Although the concepts and practices associated with system survivability are embryonic, they include (but are not limited to) traditional areas of software engineering and computer science such as reliability, testing, dependability, fault tolerance, verification of correctness, performance, and information system security. Promising research in survivability encompasses a wide variety of research methods in software engineering. Inoculation tools may be developed that will automate the distribution of security fixes, throughout an entire network infrastructure, to provide comprehensive protection from a newly discovered security flaw. The concept of inoculation may be further generalized to encompass adaptive networks, which consist of distributed cooperative network elements that exchange information on security problems and actively change and adjust in response to security threats.

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