IBM: To Improve Network Security Efforts, We Can Learn a Lot from Ants


When it comes to network security areas including data and identity management, humans can learn a lot from insects – especially leafcutter ants, according to IBM Security associate partner Mike Chung.

“I don’t believe in any extraterrestrial intelligence, but if aliens would look at our planet and pick the most advanced organism, very likely, it would be ants,” he said Aug. 25, during the webinar “Security According to Leafcutter Ants.”

Ants, after all, have the “most complex mechanism of animals that exist on our planet” and they’ve had a “great rate of success” over the span of millions of years – far longer than humans have been around, he said. To top it off, “they are great in solving problems,” he said of ants, adding: “We can learn a lot from these little and complex creatures.”
Humans have been protecting our complex network infrastructures for decades with varying degrees of success, but eusocial insects including ants are capable of withstanding countless attacks on their networks, according to Chung. 

Like our network security systems, ants are constantly facing threats, including diseases, he pointed out.

Comparing the way that people in IT roles face challenges compared to leafcutter ants, he noted that the ants tend to play “static” roles in mild regions but more “dynamic” roles in more “volatile” regions including rain forests. In stark contrast, people working in IT at large, complex corporations tend to play static roles, while those at smaller companies with maybe one customer in many cases tend to take on multiple tasks ranging from management to patching errors — and even development sometimes as well, he pointed out.

He added: “I’m not sure” if it’s a “good idea” for IT people at complex companies to continue playing such static roles.

The ants also rely on an “extremely careful design” for their security architecture “with no single point of failure” allowed, he said, noting that architecture includes multiple back-up plans just in case. They also use a “flexible nest architecture” in which no element is “not replaceable” – even the queen’s chamber, he said.

In stark contrast, IT people tend to use an “inflexible” network security architecture in which financial and business issues tend to be the most important factor, and there are typically “crown jewels” representing “single points of failure,” he said, adding: “We keep making the same mistakes.”

For better security solutions, IT people should also follow the lead of leafcutter ants by using predictive analysis and sharing information and communication more, he said.