World’s first 'mimic' Domain Name System server operational in Central China's Henan province

Chinese state media outlet, Xinhua, reported yesterday that the world's first mimic DNS (Domain Name System) server went into operation Tuesday in Central China's Henan province. This was described as a proactive move to prevent cyberattacks.

According to Xinhua, the Henan Communication Administration revealed that the server is in use by China Unicom's Henan provincial branch. It marks the first practical application of the mimic security theory proposed by Chinese scientists.

The mimic DNS server will not change the current network structure but can effectively prevent various known and unknown attacks targeting the system.

Wu Jiangxing, a Chinese Academy of Engineering academician and head of the research team, said, “Mimic DNS server is just our first application. The mimic web server, mimic cloud, mimic data center and other network devices will be launched in the future.”

The technology is said to be inspired by Mimic Octopus, which is an expert in camouflage, changing appearance to adapt to the environment.

Chinese scientists proposed the idea of mimic computing in 2007 and produced the world's first mimic computer prototype in 2013.

What is mimic defence technology?

A 2016 paper (pdf download) from researchers at the PLA Information Engineering University, a university-level military academy, explained the concept of mimic defence technology. It talks about different types of active defence technologies, which seek to prevent attacks or minimise their impact, as opposed to traditional defence methods, such as intrusion detection, virus detection, and firewalls, which are usually about responding to attacks.

According to the paper, the early form of active defence technology is intrusion tolerant technology. An intrusion tolerant system can continue to work correctly and provide the expected service to users, despite successful attack on some components. However, there is limited research regarding intrusion tolerance, and redundancy and voting may lead to high resource costs and time delays.

Then there is moving target defence which seeks to use time-varying migration and changing mechanisms and strategies across multiple system dimensions, to limit exposure of vulnerabilities, reduce attack opportunities, and increase the cost of attack significantly. The randomness, and unpredictability created by changing the configuration, composition, or state of the system dynamically, makes it difficult for attacked to conduct effective attacks. However, for this to be effective, it is necessary to gain a high changing frequency, which may cause some loss in the system performance.

The paper says that mimic defence technology “introduces a hybrid scheduling strategy using dynamic heterogeneous redundancy construction, and uses the re-constructional, reconfigurable, re-definable, and virtualised construction methods of dynamic heterogeneous redundancy to enhance the uncertainty so that the difficulty in detection increases nonlinearly, and the attack is transformed into a minimal probability event.

Mimic defence is supposed to provide immunity against unknown vulnerabilities, traps or backdoors. It can be integrated with passive defence means to protect against known or unknown attacks in cyberspace. The paper goes on to caution that mimic defence is not attempting to solve all cyberspace security problems and it does not exclude the integration of proven defence measures.

The Ministry of Science and Technology of the People’s Republic of China commissioned a study for the testing mimic defence principle verification systems. The tests were organised by the Science and Technology Commission of the Shanghai Municipality at nine testing facilities from January to June 2016, including the National Research Center for Information Technology Security. Applications in two areas were considered, a mimic router and a mimic web server.

In order to test the endogenous defence mechanism of the mimic defence system, the tested objects could not install any protection tools or carry out vulnerability repair or backdoor blocking. The object also cannot use protections such as firewalls, encryption authentication, etc. The testing used a variety of methods and means to answer questions such as whether the system can conceal the unknown vulnerabilities and backdoors, whether attackers can exploit unknown vulnerabilities to inject unknown Trojan virus and whether the running environment allows the “toxic carrier” in the mimic system.

The outcome was viewed as a successful representation of the application of the mimic defence theory.

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