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Cs Is Not Free

In: Computers and Technology

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Security is Not a Commodity:
The Road Forward for Cybersecurity Research

Stefan Savage
UC San Diego
Fred B. Schneider
Cornell University

Version 4: February 3, 2009

Computers at Risk , a 1991 report by the Computer Science & Telecommunications Board of the National Research Council begins:

We are at risk. Increasingly, America depends on computers. They control power delivery, communications, aviation, and financial services. They are used to store vital information, from medical records to business plans to criminal records. Although we trust them, they are vulnerable—to the effects of poor design and insufficient quality control, to accident, and perhaps more alarmingly, to deliberate attack. The modern thief can steal more with a computer than with a gun. Tomorrow’s terrorist may be able to do more damage with a keyboard than with a bomb.

When these words were written, the first web browsers were still on the drawing board and the Internet was a place for high-tech aficionados. How far we have come! Today, our dependence on inter-networked computing systems means that virtually every walk of American life—whether personal or commercial, public or private, civilian or military—is intermediated by computer systems. But virtually none of these systems are trustworthy; all are subject to attack; in fact, many are actively under attack today.

It is 2009 and we very much remain a nation at risk. Moreover, we are embarking on a trajectory that will only put us further at risk as we revamp energy distribution, revitalize our transportation systems, and computerize our health care records. We have no basis to place our trust in such systems. We must learn to engineer our inter-networked systems and defend them, appreciating that they will constitute a new battlefront as they are deployed.

Today’s landscape

By virtually any…...

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