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Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

Blast from the Past

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Yes, I have been quiet (here) over the last few months, and have a number of things to comment on. This hiatus is partly because of schedule, partly because I had my laptop stolen, and partly health reasons. However, I'm going to try to start back into adding some items here that might be of interest.

To start, here is one item that I found while cleaning out some old disks: a briefing I gave at the NSA Research division in 1994. I then gave it, with minor updates, to the DOD CIO Council (or whatever their name was/is -- the CNSS group?), the Federal Infosec Research Council, and the Criticial Infrastructure Commission in 1998. In it, I spoke to what I saw as the biggest challenges in protecting government systems, and what were major research challenges of the time.

I have no software to read the 1994 version of the talk any more, but the 1998 version was successfully imported into Powerpoint. I cleaned up the fonts and gave it a different background (the old version was fugly) and that prettier version is available for download. (Interesting that back then it was "state of the art" grin

I won't editorialize on the content slide by slide, other than to note that I could give this same talk today and it would still be current. You will note that many of the research agenda items have been echoed in other reports over the succeeding years. I won't claim credit for that, but there may have been some influences from my work.

Nearly 16 years have passed by, largely wasted, because the attitude within government is still largely one of "with enough funding we can successfully patch the problems." But as I've quoted in other places, insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So long as we believe that simple incremental changes to the existing infrastructure, and simply adding more funding for individual projects, is going to solve the problems then the problems will not get addressed -- they will get worse. It is insane to think that pouring ever more funding into attempts to "fix" current systems is going to succeed. Some of it may help, and much of it may produce some good research, but overall it will not make our infrastructure as safe as it should be.

Yesterday, Admiral (ret) Mike McConnell, the former Director of National Intelligence in the US, said in a Senate committee hearing that if there were a cyberwar today, the US would lose. That may not be quite the correct way of putting it, but we certainly would not come out of it unharmed and able to claim victory. What's more, any significant attack on the cyberinfrastructure of the US would have global repercussions because of the effects on the world's economy, communications, trade, and technology that are connected by the cyber infrastructure in the US.

As I have noted elsewhere, we need to do things differently. I have prepared and circulated a white paper among a few people in DC about one approach to changing the way we fund some of the research and education in the US in cybersecurity. I have had some of them tell me it is too radical, or too different, or doesn't fit in current funding programs. Exactly! And that is why I think we should try those things -- because doing more of the same in the current funding programs simply is not working.

But 15 years from now, I expect to run across these slides and my white paper, and sadly reflect on over three decades where we did not step up to really deal with the challenges. Of course, by then, there may be no working computers on which to read these!

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