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Battle of the “Bad Actors”: One Professor’s Quest for Internet Safety

He wants to make the world safer—the cyberspace world, that is.
 
Dr. Casey Deccio, the newest BYU CS professor, plans to research network security and how to protect organizations from online threats.
 

Deccio received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science at BYU and his PhD in computer science from the University of California Davis. He joined the BYU Department of Computer Science as an assistant professor in October 2016.
 
Before becoming a professor at BYU, he was a research fellow at ICANN for eight months while also working at Sandia National Laboratories as a member of the technical staff. While at Sandia, he learned about network security and its challenges.
 
One security problem is called Reflection Attack. This is when a “malicious actor” sends an internet message, but alters who the message is from. This is called IP address spoofing. It’s like putting your neighbor’s mailing address as the return address on a letter instead of your own. The “malicious actor” will send many of these forged messages. The recipients then respond to the person they think is messaging them and overwhelm their network.  
 
“There are a lot of people out there who have a desire to see bad things happen to people, whether it’s for a business rivalry or a political cause,” Deccio said.
 
Computer scientists are inventing ways to block these attacks from reaching their intended target. This protection works to ensure that the “from” address matches who is actually sending the message.
 
“It’s like if you were sending a letter to someone and, on the way out, the postal service says, ‘Wait a minute, that address isn’t within our city; we’re not sending this letter.’ It then never gets to the place that will send the response message to the third party that is the target,” Deccio said.
 
But Deccio knows many companies find it difficult to provide this protection in their network system, particularly when it primarily benefits other companies. Even if not all companies can deploy this protection, certainly some can.
 
Deccio has made it his mission to identify which parts of a network system are the most critical for protection deployment by measuring the protection’s impact in those different areas.
 
Deccio’s research will also provide students with a number of different hands-on experiences. Students will learn about internet topology, how to break it down and how different points in the internet communicate. Some students will also code and work with a variety of deployed software.
 
He looks forward to working with BYU students, who can bring a fresh perspective. Above all, he wants his research to make a difference.
 
“This is a way to help with the security and stability of the internet. Even in the last couple weeks, there was a huge attack on a very prominent content provider, and it took down a lot of services that depended on them,” Deccio said. “This was a very sophisticated attack because the system was very well provisioned. Looking at ways to help prevent those types of things before they even happen is a big thing because even the most provisioned can be affected by malicious actors in today’s internet.”