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ABN Amro has teamed up with research outfit TNO to develop "self-healing" cybersecurity software that repairs itself when under attack from viruses.

With crooks constantly looking for weaknesses in the software used by large firms such as ABN Amro in order to steal data, the bank, along with other Dutch lenders, has signed up to TNO's Partnership for Cybersecurity Innovation (PCSI) in order to explore new ways of fighting off the threat.

The self-healing software is a concept that draws on the human immune system, which repairs itself when faced with viruses. The partners brought in immunologists to help create and develop the software.

The developers wanted to use the principle of disposability, which sees the body periodically replace its own biological cells. In addition, the body kills off cells if it suspects they are infected and replaces them with clean ones.

"The disposability principle thus offers two improvements for cybersecurity: it provides protection against undetected infection attacks and it automatically intensifies that protection in the event of a suspected infection," says TNO.

To replicate this, the team built a system that is decentralised, repairs itself and also recognises the moment to do so.

Renewal is based on existing ICT technology called Kubernetes, which already contains the possibility of rebooting and renewing. But, in the new software, a functionality has been added so that containers, a kind of virtual computer server, renew themselves at adjustable intervals to create more moments at which cyberattacks can be intercepted.

In addition, the software includes anomaly detection so that containers with abnormal behaviour are terminated immediately without having to pass through a central system, meaning faster and more local intervention if something goes wrong.

The software will soon be made available to the public for use and adaptation.

Martijn Dekker, CISO, ABN Amro, says: “Self-healing security software looks very promising. We are continuously exploring and experimenting with new technologies to see how much security they will be able to offer in the future. It’s a good way to learn from bioscience and to apply this knowledge to our IT systems.”

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