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New Net project aims to avoid hacking

By Jeordan Legon (CNN)

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(CNN) -- Scientists concerned about the vulnerability of the Internet to failure or hacking envision a next-generation system that would use the collective power of users' computers to become more secure.

Researchers exploring that vision at five major U.S. universities got a $12-million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) this week, as part of a program that doled out $144 million to advance computer science.

The Internet project, dubbed Infrastructure for Resilient Internet Systems (IRIS), will attempt to solve two of the biggest problems faced by Web users: sites being down when too many people try to access a single server and hackers attacking the servers on which information is stored.

"If one node is attacked or runs into problems, the information would move to other nodes where it would still be accessible," said Frans Kaashoek, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Kaashoek is part of a team of researchers at MIT, the University of California at Berkeley, Rice University in Houston, New York University and the International Computer Science Institute that hopes to develop the system in the next five years.

Avoids control points

The research will explore ways that computers could store and serve information through a decentralized network that would need no administrator and would have no central control point.

"The goal is to build a test bed, make this version of the service available to other researchers and, in the long run, to the open public," Kaashoek said.

Similar to file-sharing networks used by millions to download music and programs, the IRIS system would grow stronger the more users that participate. It would potentially use the free storage space in users' computers to store data.

Governments and businesses worried about viruses or cyberterrorism are looking for next-generation networking and storage systems to prevent such problems, said Frank Anger, who coordinated the NSF grants this year.

Congress approved the NSF grants to spur research in information technology, which continues to fuel much of the growth in the U.S. economy. The newly funded research programs, selected from more than 1,600 competitive proposals, include seven large projects that will each total between $5 million and $13.5 million over five years. About 240 projects will receive up to $500,000 each for up to three years.

"We try to find those things that, if they work, will have a big payoff for science and society," Anger said.

Other projects that received NSF funding include attempts to create new research tools for ecologists and fiber optics computer network that could be used to map the human brain or create a public warning system for earthquakes.

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