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Moving Target Defense

In the current environment, our information technology systems are built to operate in a relatively static configuration. For example, addresses, names, software stacks, networks, and various configuration parameters remain relatively static over relatively long periods of time. This static approach is a legacy of information technology system design for simplicity in a time when malicious exploitation of system vulnerabilities was not a concern.

Moving Target Defense (MTD) is the concept of controlling change across multiple system dimensions in order to increase uncertainty and apparent complexity for attackers, reduce their window of opportunity and increase the costs of their probing and attack efforts. MTD assumes that perfect security is unattainable. Given that starting point, and the assumption that all systems are compromised, research in MTD will focus on enabling the continued safe operation in a compromised environment and to have systems that are defensible rather than perfectly secure.

“[MTD] Enables us to create, analyze, evaluate, and deploy mechanisms and strategies that are diverse and that continually shift and change over time to increase complexity and cost for attackers, limit the exposure of vulnerabilities and opportunities for attack, and increase system resiliency.” – Trustworthy Cyberspace: Strategic Plan for the Federal Cybersecurity Research and Development Program published by the Executive Office of the President, National Science and Technology Council, December 2011

MTD Program Activities

The research needs for this Technical Topic Area (TTA) were based on the results of the 2009 National Cyber Leap Year Summit and are as follows:

(1) Develop abstractions and methods that will enable scientific reasoning regarding MTD mechanisms and their effectiveness.

(2) Characterize the vulnerability space and understand the effect of system randomization on the ability to exploit those vulnerabilities.

(3) Understand the effect of randomization of individual components on the behavior of complex systems, with respect to both their resiliency and their ability to evade threats.

(4) Develop a control mechanism that can abstract the complexity of MTD systems and enable sound, resilient system management.

(5) Enable the adaptation of MTD mechanisms as the understanding of system behavior matures and our threat evolves.

CSD, in conjunction with DHS Office of Procurement Operations, has awarded contracts for R&D in the MTD topic area.

Interagency Coordination

Moving Target Defense is one of the 4 main themes in the Federal Cybersecurity R&D plan and as such, has involvement across the interagency. CSD coordinates its research agenda for MTD with the National Security Agency, National Science Foundation and the Department of Defense through the National Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Program, specifically the Cyber Security and Information Assurance Subcommittee (CSIA). For more information on NITRD and the CSIA, please see:

TTA 12 – Moving Target Defense

Prime: Northrop Grumman Information Systems | Sub: Cavium; Cadela

Month YearDocument TitleDownload
October 2012  

Prime: The Trustees of Princeton University | Sub: Analog Bits

Month YearDocument TitleDownload
October 2012Moving Target Defense for Secure Hardware Design

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Last Published Date: October 17, 2014
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