A UW-led research team will use the grant to study a type of cyberattack that often has political motives.

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University of Washington and the U.S. Department of Defense are teaming up to stop complex cyberattacks using a new type of game theory.

A UW-led research team received a $7.5 million Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative grant from the federal department to research advanced persistent threats, a type of cyberattack where attackers try to steal data from their target.

Radha Poovendran, UW chair of the Electrical Engineering Department, will head up the investigation. Poovendran has spent years learning the ins and outs of cyberattacks, and founded the Network Security Lab in 2001.

The UW team, which also includes researchers from universities in California, Illinois and Georgia, will study the stealthy attacks by modeling possible hacking situations and watching how they play out.

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“The adversary and the system are always trying to outsmart each other — in this way the interactions are essentially a game played between the system and adversary,” Poovendran in a statement. “But the economic game theory that most modeling methods are grounded in doesn’t work well here. We are trying to develop a novel game theory framework that will significantly improve the results.”

Advanced persistent threats, which often have political motives, take place when hackers target a specific organization, gain access and then sit, undetected.

Much less is known about such attacks than more common viruses, which often carry the goal of shutting down an organization’s networks, rather than watching and stealing its data over a long period of time.

The grant provides for five years of funding for the research.