Securing the Internet: Threats and vulnerabilities
Patrolling the edges, rethinking the core, Princeton researchers envision a more secure Internet
Like human society itself, our computerized infrastructure is wondrously complex, both spectacularly fertile and deeply flawed.
The Internet is, without question, a worldwide success. More than a billion people use it. On many places on Earth, the World Wide Web and e-mail have become so integrally woven into the fabric of life that it is hard to remember that just twenty years or so ago the Internet was an idea in its infancy. Banking, air travel, the electrical grid—all have been transformed by computers and the Internet.
But the near-magical powers that our digitized world provides can be harnessed both for good and for ill. A new report just produced by the National Research Council—while delineating the great promise of our networked culture—also warns of “ominous threats.”
“Cyberspace in general, and the Internet in particular, are notoriously vulnerable to a frightening and expanding range of accidents and attacks by a spectrum of hackers, criminals, terrorists, and state actors who have been empowered by unprecedented access to more people and organizations than has ever been the case with any infrastructure in history,” write the authors of Toward a Safer and More Secure Cyberspace, which urgently calls for a substantial increase in funding for cybersecurity research. The report argues that most of the players who are dependent upon cyberspace are unaware of how vulnerable and defenseless they are, and that the nation is “paying enormous costs for relying on such an insecure infrastructure.”
Just how can we make a system that is as complicated as human society more secure? Some of the most influential thinkers on this question sit just a few dozen steps away from each other in the engineering complex on the Princeton University campus: Edward Felten, director of the Center for Information Technology Policy, focuses on software and policy; Ruby Lee heads the Princeton Architecture Lab for Multimedia and Security; Larry Peterson and Jennifer Rexford are key players in the Global Environment for Network Innovation.
While these researchers may be physically proximate, their unique visions on how to best ensure cybersecurity can seem worlds apart. What follows are portraits of Felten, Lee, Rexford, and Peterson—all pathfinders at the frontiers of security research.