Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) researcher Andrew Clark has been awarded a $441,228 grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Program to develop a framework to enable nodes on large computer systems to shut down network segments during disruptions and later reconnect in a way that minimizes interruptions for users.
Clark, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will develop algorithms that would allow computer nodes within systems such as power grids or social networks to detect problems and partition a network into stable sub-networks known as “islands” that would be walled off from failures elsewhere in a system.
“Traditional efforts to make a network resilient involve maintaining connectivity within the network during a disturbance, but sometimes connectivity allows disruption to spread,” Clark said. “This three-year project will enable networks to use islanding to deliberately reduce some connectivity in order to preserve a basic level of functionality until a disturbance has been corrected.”
Complex networks can be impacted by disturbances such as weather and malicious attacks, and it is challenging for a centralized authority to understand and rapidly respond to these interruptions.
Clark’s distributed computing approach pushes decision making to the nodes on a network so that the nodes self-organize. His research will enable nodes to identify failure, develop a distributed algorithm that would allow nodes to set the boundaries of network islands, and determine strategies to reconnect islands.
“The ultimate goal is to bring agility to a network, so that when a disturbance happens, the system can adapt and eventually return to safe, functional operation,” Clark said. “Network resilience is not just about some central authority that directs an operation, but about individual nodes in a network exchanging information and making decisions.”
Clark’s project builds on his work in complex networks, optimization, game theory, and networked control systems. He previously received two prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) grants aimed at young investigators: a CAREER award for the development of a second line of cyber defense for intelligent systems such as autonomous vehicles, and a Computer and Information Science and Engineering Research Initiation Initiative (CRII) award for the development of methods to secure networks from multi-stage attacks.