Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The complex society of ants

Ants are fascinating insects. Generally, the members of different mounds are very aggressive between them. But it happens in some parts of the world that several breeds establish "friendship agreements," leading to the creation of supercolonies like the one in Hokkaido island in Japan. It is formed by 306 million worker ants and about 1 million queen ants, living in a vast metropolis of 45,000 interconnected ant nests. In fact, the complexity of this social ecosystem can rivalise with the human one.


Ants also have discrepancies that they solve thanks to a strict set of laws that is adapted to the environment. In our world, one day President Obama announces an increase in security measures and a reinforcement of legislation against hackers, and the day after the Democratic Party itself along with several technology experts do not hesitate to show their opposition. Such measures affect not only cyber criminals but also security researchers, and could jeopardize their work.

About 90% of ants in a colony are workers, and therefore, they have the principles of construction in their DNA. Nevertheless no one has been seen playing Minecraft so they do not have to face the leak of 1,800 players’ personal information discovered a few hours ago. Furthermore their email addresses and passwords have been exposed in plain text. This situation mainly affects German users and could compromise other services.

These peculiar insects are able to transform themselves as needed. If the nest requires higher percentage of males (warriors) or a new queen, any worker can mutate and cope with their new reality. Just something like that is what cyber defense teams do every day to defend their organizations against botnets. They make their systems mutate to detect intrusions or requests to strange DNS, while continuously checking the list find out already known malicious ones.

These small animals are able to perform heroic deeds in order to keep their community safe. In Africa, the red ants are able to put their bodies together to form rafts that allow the rest of the nest to use the rivers for moving to different area. Taking this example to our industry, the security of a company does not only depend on software. Yolanda Ruiz from Ontinet explains two cases in which the enterprise security was compromised by organizational failures and wrong management of access permissions. Meanwhile ENISA surprises you with a study on how to structure and treat information gathered from responses to security incidents. This critical aspect of organizations, whether they are human or animal, sometimes overcomes us.

After all, every ecosystem is imperfect. If any ant loses its way falling apart of the path for collecting food, the ones behind it will follow it spending days lost until the group reorganizes or perishing by starvation. Android is leading the mobile OS market share but it also is raising mistrust among its users becoming an ecosystem that is not as perfect as we all would like it. Actually the solution to this problem seems very far, even it could not ever arrive.

Ants and humans are so alike and yet so different. With their limitations, they fight everyday to cope the complexity of their society in the best way.

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