Researchers seek advanced network prioritization, security technology

Researchers are looking to build self-configuring network technology that would identify traffic, let the network infrastructure prioritize it down to the end user, reallocate bandwidth between users or classes of users, and automatically make quality of service decisions. The system will have a minimum of 32 levels of prioritization. These prioritization levels will be configurable and changeable at the system level in an authenticated method. Data with a higher priority will be handled more expeditiously than traffic with a lower priority.

If that sounds like a major undertaking, it is, but consider who wants to develop such a beast:  the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

This advanced prioritization system is part of DARPA's  Military Networking Protocol (MNP) program which is looking to develop an authenticated and attributable identification system for packet based, military and government data networks, the agency said. Military or government data sent with the MNP will be compatible with normal Internet equipment to allow MNP traffic to pass through legacy network or encryption equipment, DARPA said.

Not only should the prioritization scheme be radically advanced, the system should be extremely difficult to spoof or inject false traffic into, DARPA said.

At the heart of the system is the priority level setting though.

Some meatier MNP description from DARPA goes like this:

The MNP system will be able to change the priorities within the system in a trusted and authenticated manner by network administrators and/or unit commanders. For operational reasons, it is highly desirable that these changes may be made from more than one location within a single administered network or network domain. It is desirable that these changes be made while interacting with a Network Controller and not directly from a user level device.

 There may be times when a Network Controller's network configuration is missing or incorrect. In this case, the router, or Network Controller as DARPA calls them,  will seek and discover other Network Controllers, exchange authentication tokens, retrieve, and load an appropriate network level configuration. It is desirable that a centralized network level configuration repository not be used for operational purposes.

Multiple MNP domains will eventually be linked together. MNP performers must develop technology to have these different MNP domains interact with each other, exchange configuration and prioritization data, and to correct and alert network administrators to problems with the joined MNP domains. Connection mistrust is a network or domain administrator tunable parameter.

Vendors must provide protocol implementations that replace or modify both the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) for the user level devices and the Network Controllers. There may be times when it is not desirable to alter either the operating systems or other software/hardware of user level devices or servers.

This prioritization technology is one of many leading edge network systems DARPA has outlined. For example, in August the agency gave BBN Technologies $4.4 million to develop advanced network monitoring technology BBN Technologies is building for the military. The high-tech firm is set to develop novel, scalable attack detection algorithms; a flexible and expandable architecture for implementing and deploying the algorithms; and an execution environment for traffic inspection and algorithm execution.

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