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A new cybersecurity model

Inspired by the human nervous and immune system researchers at the University of Arizona are developing a new cyber security model, which detects and addresses a threat in its earliest stage. A similar idea has been developed by IBM Security called the “IBM Security immune system”.

Thus, these initiative is driven by a desire to move away from reactive cybersecurity solutions towards a more proactive approach. Moreover, while traditional security solutions have to some degree ben ad hoc, these new models are designed to be an integrated part of the network or device they are protecting, evolving with the threat.

This is the goal of the Partnership for Proactive Cybersecurity Training project, which is staffed by researchers from the University of Arizona. Having received a $3 million grant from the National Nuclear Security Administration, they have started development on such a new system.

I felt we could learn about how the body protects us by reacting to threats and maybe apply it to cyber by building a ‘cyber immune systemSalim Harriri, the projects principal investigator

To achieve this, the researchers are aiming to develop an scientific approach which catalogs the strategies at the disposal of potential attackers. Building up on this, the team’s goal is to create a “list” of defense strategies for each of the identified threats. By monitoring the “vitals” or actions of the cyber system the model would then be able to identify a threat immediately and respond accordingly to the identified threat.

According to Harriri: “The moment we see abnormal behavior, we want to be able to say, ‘Oh, that’s play No. 5 and I already have a way to respond to it, and I can act on it quickly.” 

Through this, the response time to an attack will be significantly reduced, enabling the cybersecurity model to neutralise the threat before it can spread on the targeted device or network.

However, the cybersecurity solution developed will not rely on constant human input of new threats to maintain its quick reaction. Instead the researchers are using “machine learning methods”. Through this type of artificial intelligence the machine teaches itself how to recognize patterns and learn new tasks. This way it will evolve with the threat and by analysing patterns may even be able to predict changes before they turn into a threat.

Moreover, enabled by the grant, the Partnership for Proactive Cybersecurity Training project will provide an eight-week summer education program on the UA campus, set to begin in 2020, and a e-cybersecurity class that takes place in a virtual lab.

IBM´s “Security immune system” follows a similar logic. It stressed the need for an “fluid, flexible and streamlined” cyber security solution. Additionally, IBM stresses the need to adapt to changing regulatory frameworks as well as new threats. However, rather than offering one solution, as it appears to be the case with the team from the UA, IBM focuses on enabling and allowing different security solutions to adapt, grow and work together.

As such, it focuses on:

  • Security Transformation Services: to reduce costs and implement strategies
  • Security Operations and Response: to prevent, detect and respond to threats in an intelligent, automated manner
  • Information Risk and Protection: to keep critical information protected

Finally, according to UA President Robert C. Robbins:

We hear a lot of stories about advances in computing or physical technology being used to improve human health..” “Researchers learning from human biological systems to inspire a new tool that improves cybersecurity is the kind of innovative thinking we need..”


Note: This article is based on a update of the  University of Arizona on the project as well as an IBM overview and related news articles. .

Author: Niklas Hamann


Coble, Sarah (2019). University to Create New Cybersecurity Approach Inspired by the Human Body In: Info security Available at:

Dieckman, Emily (2019). $3M Grant to Create Cybersecurity Modeled After Human Body In: University of Arizona News Available at:

IBM Security (2017). An integrated, intelligent approach to security Available at:

Ragueso, Domenico (2017). The Power of the Security Immune System In: Security Intelligence Available at:


cybersecurity, new model, University of Arizona,