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A guardian AI to protect the world's most powerful particle collider at CERN

The European research organization, CERN, is home to the world’s largest particle physics laboratory and a computer network of equal magnitude. CERN’s computer network facilitates thousands of scientists from around the globe in their study of the universe. The computer grid possesses extraordinary computational abilities, which enables it to process humongous volumes of data generated by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). This exceptional computational prowess makes the CERN network a prime target for hackers. A network as capable and powerful as CERN is rather inviting for hackers to hijack and use it to attack other systems. The biggest challenge with the protection of such grid is the differentiation between genuine data acquisition and a “hack attack.”

Earlier studies indicated that LHC would produce approximately 50 petabytes of data in 2017 alone. In order to accommodate the growth, the Worldwide LHC Computing Grid was established in 2002. This grid connects computers from 170 research laboratories across 40 countries.

AI effectively detects constantly evolving threats

CERN’s computer grid faces threats that are always evolving and resorting to newer techniques. Therefore, adopting conventional protection mechanisms such as scanning incoming data for malicious codes and viruses are insufficient. Consequently, experts at CERN have resorted to artificial intelligence (AI) to tackle the constant threat.

AI is more receptive to patterns and relies on machine learning to analyze the traffic. Therefore, the AI-based system will alienate any abnormal behavior and immediately inform the system administrators of a possible threat. The CERN cybersecurity department is currently working on training the system to differentiate between genuine and fake access of data. In case of a flag, the AI-based system will also inform the relevant department and staff via text messages, email and computer notifications.

Launch: Early stages

The transition to the AI guardian is still in its early stages. The first test for AI will be the protection of the grid used by ALICE. If the test is successful, the team will move on to deploy the program to other parts of the LHC.

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