RSA CONFERENCE 2018 – San Francisco – Tucked away in one of the large exhibit halls here this week was the US Department of Homeland Security, which among other things was showcasing a prototype intrusion prevention system (IPS) for mobile devices.
The IPS, developed by a researcher at MITRE nearly three years ago, is a patented tool for Android mobile devices that operates like a traditional network or host-based IPS, blocking malicious incoming and outgoing IPv4 network traffic attempting to come and go from the Android. The prototype, called APE, is in the form of a mobile app, and uses deep packet inspection to filter the network traffic from cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
Nadia Carlsten, program manager for DHS's Transition to Practice (TTP) program, says MITRE's APE prototype was selected as a promising federally funded cybersecurity project under the TTP program. DHS's TTP facilitates the adoption of technologies, helping spur adoption via partnerships, product development, marketing strategies, and by helping accelerate commercialization of the research. It includes funding, training, mentorship, and a connection to the private sector. APE was picked for DHS's TTP program in May of 2017.
"We're actually doing all the steps that it takes to get [a] product commercially viable including partnering with industry and the inventory community, getting them to rally around the technology, help with development of the technology, and get this product to market so people can buy it, including government agencies," said Carlsten, who is with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, under the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Mark Mitchell, lead multi-discipline systems engineer at MITRE and the creator of APE, says his concept for the IPS came from what he saw as a gap in mobile attack intelligence. "I was looking at ways to monitor devices … or a honeypot to infer the probabilities of a given attack vector," he said. "I sort of had this 'aha' moment, of well, I have the traffic here on the device, so rather than logging it and analyzing it after the fact, why don't I just block it if I recognize it's malicious? And that was the beginning of APE."
APE relies on a set of rules for identifying malicious behavior, and includes signatures and behavior-based analysis and filtering, Mitchell said.
MITRE's Mitchell ultimately hopes to license APE to a vendor that would then build it out as a product for mobile security. He hopes to get firms to test and evaluate the IPS in the meantime. As a research arm, MITRE doesn't sell products itself.
APE can work alongside mobile device management software, he says, and could eventually be offered as an app in the Google Play store if it becomes an official product.
He picked Android as a start for the mobile IPS prototype, but believes the APE could also work in theory on an iOS - or even an IoT device - as well. APE isn't quite baked yet, either: "It continues to evolve," he says, including as a tool to protect mobile user privacy online, as well as enhancing it with machine learning.
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