Challenges in cybersecurity: Lessons from biological defense systems

Edward Schrom, Ann Kinzig, Stephanie Forrest, Andrea L. Graham, Simon A. Levin, Carl T. Bergstrom, Carlos Castillo-Chavez, James P. Collins, Rob J. de Boer, Adam Doupé, Roya Ensafi, Stuart Feldman, Bryan T. Grenfell, J. Alex Halderman, Silvie Huijben, Carlo Maley, Melanie Moses, Alan S. Perelson, Charles Perrings, Joshua PlotkinJennifer Rexford, Mohit Tiwari

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Defending against novel, repeated, or unpredictable attacks, while avoiding attacks on the ‘self’, are the central problems of both mammalian immune systems and computer systems. Both systems have been studied in great detail, but with little exchange of information across the different disciplines. Here, we present a conceptual framework for structured comparisons across the fields of biological immunity and cybersecurity, by framing the context of defense, considering different (combinations of) defensive strategies, and evaluating defensive performance. Throughout this paper, we pose open questions for further exploration. We hope to spark the interdisciplinary discovery of general principles of optimal defense, which can be understood and applied in biological immunity, cybersecurity, and other defensive realms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109024
JournalMathematical Biosciences
StatePublished - Aug 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Immunology and Microbiology
  • Applied Mathematics
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Modeling and Simulation


  • Complex systems
  • Cybersecurity
  • Defense
  • Immunology


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