Changing the game: Winning paper models cyberwarfare game theory

ASU professors' work honored in NSA's sixth annual competition

January 2, 2019

Arizona State University Assistant Professor Tiffany Bao won best paper for her collaborative research on cyberwarfare at the NSA’s sixth annual Best Scientific Cybersecurity Paper Competition.

Bao, a new faculty member in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the six schools in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, partnered with Fulton Schools Assistant Professors Yan Shoshitaishvili and Ruoyu Wang, and collaborations from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of California, Santa Barbara on the research. Tiffany Bao Arizona State University Assistant Professor Tiffany Bao. Download Full Image

The research paper, “How Shall We Play a Game? A Game-theoretical Model for Cyberwarfare Games,” explored ways of finding, exploiting and patching vulnerabilities to prepare for a strategic cyberbattle. Game theory allows researchers to model situations where decision-makers interact in a competitive activity. In the context of cyberwarfare, the decision-makers try to protect themselves or attack an organization’s information systems for strategic or military purposes.

Currently, players or decision-makers develop strategies manually, which slows down developments in the field. ASU researchers have created a new, more comprehensive cyberwarfare model that considers a greater number of decision-makers, actions and choices. Every action, including attacks and defensive maneuvers, reveals information to adversaries about vulnerabilities and choices. The new strategies aid both humans and computers in making decisions about previously unknown vulnerabilities in their own systems.

“Our model is capable of finding better solutions than previous work within seconds, making computer-time strategic reasoning a reality,” the researchers wrote in the recognized paper. “We also provide new insights, compared to previous models, on the impact of optimal strategies.”

Using this approach and strong scientific methods, the authors developed an improved cyberwarfare strategy and tested it on a previous Cyber Reasoning System entered into the DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge. In that competition, teams designed computer systems to identify flaws and protect their host systems.

“Our paper highlights the importance of making the right move in cybersecurity,” Bao said. “It reminds people that a software security technique has its practical merit only to the extent it can be used to achieve a security goal, such as protecting national computing resources.”

For the original paper, which was presented at the 30th IEEE Computer Security Foundations Symposium in 2017, Bao and five other researchers from across the country applied game theory toward advancing the human decision-making process.

Their winning paper was selected from 28 nominations of published papers in 2017.

“This is exactly the type of high-impact cybersecurity research we are conducting at ASU,” said Adam Doupé, associate director for the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics. “It shows the strength of our new faculty.”

Student Science/Technology Writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

First woman to earn PhD in physics at ASU marks 25 years working in modeling instruction program

January 2, 2019

Jane Jackson was the first woman to receive her PhD in physics at Arizona State University. This month she celebrates 25 years working with ASU.

Her journey in physics began as a teenager: She began to ponder and question the makeup of the universe — and her place in it. She checked out Albert Einstein’s “The Evolution of Physics” from her local library and decided after reading it that physics held the answers she was looking for. Jane Jackson has been integral to ASU's modeling instruction program for 25 years. Download Full Image

Jackson moved from New York to attend ASU in 1962. The physics program was tiny then, and out of 17 students, she was the only woman.

While studying, Jackson involved herself with the Society of Physics Students, serving as vice president and treasurer.

“It was a small group — supportive, good-humored — rather like a family of peers,” she said.

Encouraged by her mentors, she stayed on to earn her doctorate and became the first woman to receive a doctorate in physics at ASU.

“My PhD adviser Akbar Ahmadzadeh and my two favorite professors, David Hestenes and Richard (Dick) Jacob, were very important to my success at ASU,” she said. “These three challenged me the most.”

After graduating, Jackson went on to become an assistant physics professor at South Dakota State University for eight years. After receiving an offer for a faculty position at Scottsdale Community College, she returned to Arizona and soon found her way back to ASU to take on an exciting new challenge.

“When I learned in 1994 that David Hestenes had just been awarded a $4 million grant by the National Science Foundation for modeling instruction, I saw its potential for excellence, so I accepted a job as project co-director,” she said. “All told, 6,000 high school teachers and many thousands of their students have benefited from this program in the last 20 years.”

The modeling program, a part of the Arizona STEM network, led by Science Foundation Arizona, provides professional development for high school and middle school teachers.

Arizona has a distinct shortage of teachers of the physical sciences, and a large percentage of those currently teaching these K-12 courses do not hold degrees in the subjects they are teaching. The STEM program courses offered through the ASU graduate program for teachers are specifically designed to meet professional development needs of high school and postsecondary physics, chemistry and physical science teachers.

Teachers can enroll in these courses to earn credit toward recertification, become more effective in the classroom, progress toward becoming qualified faculty by the Higher Learning Commission, pursue an interdisciplinary Master of Natural Science degree (MNS), or as electives in education degrees.

Better-qualified teachers improve the learning and achievement of K-12 students, promoting scientific literacy and critical thinking skills.

“It is so necessary; critical thinking is essential to meet 21st-century challenges ahead, such as global warming,” Jackson said of the program. “Physics is the foundation of all sciences, engineering and technology. Thus, Arizona’s economic competitiveness depends on a strong K-12 education that includes a robust physics course.”

Dominique Perkins

Manager of marketing and communications, School of Life Sciences