These defences against DDoS attacks are brilliant – but I wish the machines would stop copying us

Written by Nick Booth, IT Analyst Published 2015-10-08 08:00:00

Do you ever worry that we're losing the titanic struggle between man and machines?

Well don't. They're still pretty stupid when you compare them with the sophistication of the human brain.

Even the dimmest human brain is millions of versions ahead of the most powerful supercomputer on the market today.

Our bodies have evolved for more millennia than any of us can accurately account for. So we take it for granted that we have these sophisticated brains linked by organic communications channels attached to sensors that can differentiate types of light, temperature, smell, sound and taste. The way the brain processes all that information, and co-ordinates responses from a variety of organs and limbs, makes IBM's Watson supercomputer look like an amoeba.

Granted, there are increasing numbers of people who are deferential to machines. They're unable to function if the computer goes down and won't believe anything unless it's presented by some form of glowing screen. But if these people were trained to rediscover the power of their brains, again, they would achieve far more self improvement than a computer could do for them.

Computers are dumb, we should never forget that. We often mythologise about their sophistication and forget that they only do what we tell them to do. But therein lies the problem. Some machines are rapidly becoming more intelligent and these days there are more people telling them to do terrible things.

The machine community is incredibly diverse, ranging from dim devices to devious algorithm driven demons. When you have diversity, there's always the danger that some intelligent mutants will emerge. Machines have brutally short life cycles, so they evolve a lot quicker. So some of these mutations are becoming dangerously intelligent.

The intelligence could be used for good or evil, such as marshaling all the mindless machines together for some kind of concerted act. If they all got together to simultaneously target one system, for example, that gives them enormous power. These electronic flash mobs - distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS) to give them their full name - can put companies out of business by jamming up their communications channels. As the deputized ring leaders behind these DDoS attacks become more intelligent, the humans that oversee these electronic rackets become more dangerous.

The DDoS attacks are becoming more better organised, by super intelligent machines that can hijack even other relatively intelligent machines, such as routers and switches, as well as commandeering huge armies of repeaters and dumb devices. The size of the machine army they can commandeer means they can target practically anyone. The speed at which they can act is even more worrying, as they can get a 'denial of service mob' together in seconds.

So it's reassuring to see that VIRTUS has partnered with industry leaders to create a strong defence, DDoS Mitigation, which thwarts the attackers through superior intelligence. Again, it does this by emulating the defensive instincts that humans took millions of years to evolve.

If the origin of something doesn't look right, the system's hackles are raised. Rate limiting and IP filtering are a bit like the natural suspicion you develop when another party starts babbling and chattering. Patterns are very telling too. Just as you know that none of your friends or family would ever phone you when Match of the Day is on, machines are naturally suspicious of times, repetitive patterns and rogue IP addresses.

The human brain has developed a range of unconscious visceral reactions to oddities, whose logic is based on the lessons of our ancestry. That's why we're often terrified of spiders.

Rather impressively, machines have now developed a similar level of sophistry, with the use of advanced behavioural analytics technology. Machines will now pass lessons down through their ancestry and those generational changes occur in much quicker succession.

You have to take your hat off to these machines, they do make things better sometimes. Although I think I'd respect them more if they developed their own style and stopped copying us all the time.