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National Lab Builds Android Network for Security Simulations

David Fritz (Dino Vournas, Sandia National Lab )

David Fritz (Dino Vournas, Sandia National Lab )

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratory in Livermore, California created a virtual network of some 300,000 mobile devices using the Android operation system to study issues related to large-scale network security. Sandia Lab expects to soon demonstrate the MegaDroid network, as its called, for potential industry and government collaborators.

“Smartphones are now ubiquitous and used as general-purpose computing devices as much as desktop or laptop computers,” says Sandia technical staff member David Fritz (pictured right). “But even though they are easy targets, no one appears to be studying them at the scale we’re attempting.”

The network has a simulated Global Positioning System (GPS), with which Sandia engineers created simulated GPS data of smartphone users in an urban environment. The GPS capability is a key part of MegaDroid, since features as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are dependent on a user’s location and thus could be manipulated by rogue actors.

The Sandia team fed those data into the GPS input of an Android virtual machine. Software on the virtual machine treats the spoofed location data no different from real GPS data, which offers researchers a richer and more accurate environment to analyze and study the ways hackers can operate in smartphone networks.

MegaDroid has the ability to add on features resembling a real-life networking environment, such as full domain name service, Internet relay chat server, Web server, and multiple subnets. Sandia, however, keeps the project insulated from other internal networks and connections from the outside.

A challenge encountered in Android-based machines is the sheer complexity of the software. The researchers say Google, which developed the Android operating system, wrote some 14 million lines of code into the software, and the system runs on top of a Linux kernel, which more than doubles the amount of code. “You can’t possibly read through 15 million lines of code and understand every possible interaction between all these devices and the network,” Fritz adds.

In the following video, Fritz and Sandia computer scientist John Floren tell more about MegaDroid.

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