Using Active Isolation to Counter Cyber Attacks and Save Lives

Several recent airline tragedies got me thinking back to an article I wrote in September 2014, What We Learn from Protecting Artificially Intelligent Cars. The article peered into the makeup of future cybersecurity professionals and how they will protect autonomous vehicles. The discussion provided definitions for eleven capabilities that will be used by cyber professionals to operate, maintain and defend environments of interconnected system and things. One of the eleven capabilities defined is Active Isolation. The definition of Active Isolation follows:

Active Isolation: Provides automated and manual actions to defend against malicious, unintended and unwanted activities on the enterprise.

For an example of what this means, consider the action an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) takes when it loses contact with pilots on the ground. The UAV immediately begins traversing the sky in a consistent circle until ground control recovers the aircraft. This is what I would call an example of the Active Isolation capability. Curiously reflecting, what if an Active Isolation option existed on the aircraft involved in some of these headline-grabbing tragedies? That is, when a deviation beyond an expected trajectory threshold happens, the aircraft automatically moved into Active Isolation -- similar to the actions of UAVs. Or, if there were controls in the rear of the aircraft where someone could shift the aircraft into Active Isolation. Would the recent events have been different?

It is easy to say “What if?” I get that, and I’m not trying to make light of these horrible recent tragedies. But I’m a perpetual optimist, and do believe that cybersecurity professionals need to have these discussions as more of the decisions we make not only protect systems, but also save lives.

You know that famous quote by William Gibson, “The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” Active Isolation capabilities for security systems would take a lot of work, but we will figure it out – the technology exists. Neural networks, artificial intelligence and autonomous systems are here, and it will be creative cyberspace leaders that harness their potential. In addition, the extensibility of the Active Isolation capability would cover all autonomous and man operated systems for protecting life. This is an effort cyber professionals can get behind.

I look forward to the day when we finally decide to get our act together as cyberspace professionals and begin working to achieve something exponentially bigger than what we contribute today. At that time, we will realize that human disasters from cyber attacks already take place – and we’ll truly treat cyberspace as a global domain rather than a collection of technologies assembled like a fledgling tinker toy set.

If you’re like me, you consider this kind of stuff inspirational in many ways. Send me a note at ttreat@paloaltonetworks.com and let me know your thoughts. Let's be human and collaborate.