Unbeknownst to you, however, malicious software robots — aka botnets — are invading your computer, corrupting your files and stealing your personal information. They are operating under the remote control and command of an individual who may live half a world away. They can enter through Internet computing software, real-time discussion forums or even through one-on-one e-mail communication. They are the Trojan horses of the cyberworld — gaining admittance through subterfuge and then wreaking havoc.

“Botnets and other malicious software or ‘malware’ costs individuals and businesses millions of dollars in computer and program repair and replacement,” says Jeanna Matthews, associate professor of computer science at Clarkson. “Not to mention the aggravation of lost information and compromised personal data.”

Successfully combating malware by developing computer systems that are harder to attack and more recoverable if breached is one of Matthews’ research interests.

When an individual surfs to a compromised Web site, or opens an e-mail attachment, a virus can be downloaded onto his/her computer. If the computer is attacked and disabled by a virus, one could bring the machine to a technician to remove the virus, but this can be a very costly solution. Often, the person’s data is still lost and all files — from music libraries to employment records — have to be rebuilt. “This is particularly problematic as people begin to trust more and more of their professional and personal lives to computers,” says Matthews. 

Matthews studies computer viruses to understand their properties so that she can develop software that defends against them. To do that, she focuses her attention on infrastructure software.

“Infrastructure software,” she explains, “is a general term for the systems that enable a computer to perform applications and functions, such as connecting users to networks or downloading images. Everyone relies on these systems to operate in cyberspace, but no one thinks about them. Infrastructure software is the target of attack by viruses and other forms of malware.”

A key strategy for containing these cyber attacks involves “virtualization.” Virtualization is a broad term that applies to the creation of a virtual (rather than real) version of something, such as a server, a network or an operating system where the framework allows the user to engage in multiple processes simultaneously. Virtualization entails the use of software to allow a piece of hardware to run multiple operating system images or programs at the same time. So, for example, you can run multiple operating systems, like Windows and Linux, at the same time on one physical computer.

Research and Highlights