This past Thursday, at a ceremony headlined by Congressman Derek Kilmer, who represents most of Tacoma, Infoblox and the University of Washington Tacoma (UW Tacoma) officially announced the kick-off of a new partnership for research into the use of cutting-edge machine learning methodologies to help mitigate DNS and other cybersecurity issues. Infoblox is committing resources, facilities, collaboration with our staff, and access to real-world data to a team of cybersecurity and informatics researchers from the UW Tacoma. That team includes leading academics in information security and big data analytics on the UW Tacoma faculty as well as students pursuing degrees in these areas. This UW Tacoma team already has proven results in related research and are already collaborating with Infoblox engineers in the CTO’s office and are off to a very promising start.
The University of Washington Tacoma is a relatively young institution, founded in 1990 in a visionary effort to turn a decaying, little used portion of downtown Tacoma into a world class university. UW Tacoma is an “urban serving university” meaning it has a mission to not only serve its students, but also the surrounding community. Economic development and fostering a path from classroom to career are key components of the UW Tacoma mission. Partnerships with growing local companies that engage students while in the classroom through internships and “capstone” projects and then go on to hire many on as employees are thus critical to the metrics of success for the university.
The school has grown rapidly, from a handful of students graduating from a commuter school with two-year degrees to a full-fledged university of nearly 5,000 students with numerous four year degrees and master’s degree programs in its brief 25 year history. Much more growth is planned going forward. The revitalization of the southern downtown Tacoma core has been nothing short of spectacular as a result. I remember well the days when the area was the haven of drug dealers, prostitutes and other nefarious actors that you drove through as quickly as possible if you couldn’t avoid it altogether. Today, there’s a thriving street scene with young adults filling the streets between classes, alongside new restaurants, cafes, fun boutiques, and museums. The facilities team at Infoblox loved the area so much that Infoblox’s new Tacoma offices are opening in this vibrant district, right across the street from the UW Tacoma campus.
The Infoblox Tacoma team has long partnered with UW Tacoma, providing sponsorships, scholarships, internships, and employment opportunities for students. We have helped the university in the creation of signature events like the annual “Cyber de Mayo” that have brought in great speakers and sparked stimulating conversations. This partnership has been an important initiative to help grow local talent and know-how in cybersecurity and foster a positive relationship with the community, representing both major financial and time commitments by the Infoblox Tacoma team (formerly IID) to the university over the years. Lars Harvey and I have also volunteered as members of the Institute of Technology’s Advisory Board for many years to help set direction for the program during rapid growth of the institute and university overall.
Through a series of internships with both undergraduate students in several technical disciplines and master’s degree candidates in the unique Masters in Cybersecurity and Leadership Program, the Infoblox Tacoma team was able to bring in numerous students as employees, often as their first job throughout the organization. Sean Tierney, who leads our Cyber Intelligence team, is a proud graduate of UW Tacoma who has managed to come back home after a distinguished career in information security leadership at several of the largest financial institutions in the US. We’ve hired numerous UW Tacoma grads over the years and have several on staff today.
So it provides a great sense of pride and fulfillment to be able to commit to such a strong partnership with the university. The leadership and staff at UW-T couldn’t be happier – ecstatic is probably a better word, and the team that has been assembled to work with Infoblox is extremely enthusiastic, and volunteering left and right to work on issues well beyond the core research project.
As for the project itself, we are looking to harness many strengths of the university and a team of academics that have the ability to concentrate on “big problems” over time. Several members of the UW Tacoma team have worked on prior DNS analytics studies for other security companies so have excellent knowledge of the topic space. Those prior studies churned out several algorithms and frameworks that were incorporated into products and we look to leverage the fact that the team is so far down the learning curve already. We’re looking at various machine learning techniques like graphs, to build new models for detecting previously unknown security threats. Initially, we’re digging into domain generation algorithms (DGA’s) as one of the first areas to explore. We’re already seeing some great insights and previously unknown “dictionary” based DGA’s which is an area that there’s been very little research or product coverage of in the industry to date. So – hopefully – we’ll see some real practical results we can use in our products like Threat Insight and the DNS Firewall that will be providing unique protections to our customers in the near future.
Once the Tacoma office move is complete in mid-December, we’ll start to see several of the professors and students in the new Infoblox offices on a daily basis. We’ve dedicated space for them to come in and collaborate with the subject matter experts and access data we’ve collecting for various studies (yes, we’ve taken care of the legal and security aspects of that!). We hope to be able to turn research into product on a regular basis, as well as assist the professors and students to publish cutting edge papers in the field. With Infoblox as the main catalyst for such research papers, we intend to further establish ourselves as the thought leaders in the field of DNS security.
So, a great start to a great partnership bringing the best of academia together with a best-in-category company. We look forward to a long and fruitful partnership that will benefit all involved – not the least of whom will be Infoblox’s customers!