Monday, December 5, 2011

Computer Science Professor Stefan Savage on Computer Security and Online Data

Stefan Savage, a professor in the computer science department, was invited to contribute a piece in the New York Times' feature "Essays on Computing," now online in the paper's Science section and out in hard copy tomorrow.

Some eye-opening excerpts from the essay are below. The full text can be found here.

"We can expect new threats to directly reflect each new technical innovation in how money is used, moved and stored. Emerging cellphone-based payment systems, automated banking transfers and the increasingly liquid markets for online goods in multiplayer games will all be ripe targets for online crooks."

"The ease with which we adopt online personas and relationships has created a collective blind spot that computer technology is well suited to exploit. Advances in natural-language processing and data mining make it entirely feasible to mint millions of “social bots,” each establishing online friendships with their targets like virtual con men, each building trust over time and delivering personalized messages designed to elicit information, sway opinion or call to action.
This idea, which one of my colleagues has called “social architecture,” completely upends traditional computer security concerns: The threat is not of humans controlling or monitoring our computers, but precisely the converse."

"The Stuxnet worm, designed to sabotage gas centrifuges in Iran, made it clear that computer attacks can have physical, real-world consequences — a particularly troubling precedent because computing capabilities are now embedded in virtually every aspect of our lives. The power we use, the water we drink, the cars, planes and trains we travel in, the elevators and air-conditioning in our buildings, even many of our children’s toys — all are controlled by computers.
A parallel trend, fueled by cheap wireless connectivity, is that these devices are increasingly networked. And while few of these systems have been attacked in anger, it is this very fact that leads most of them to be rife with vulnerabilities — a sheltered ecosystem with no immunity to attacks from an outside invader"

Also, Larry Smarr, director of Calit2 and a computer science professor here at the Jacobs School, wrote an essay for the same feature, titled "An Evolution Toward a Programmable Universe." Read it here.

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