Security in a networked world

Nearly two billion people—more than the population of China—now use the Internet. With its vast capacity for communication and information, the web has become a powerful tool for transformative change: from new financial services and poverty alleviation to political change, as we are seeing in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

Yet the pervasiveness of the web is its greatest vulnerability. For instance, more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables have been released to WikiLeaks, raising serious questions about international relations and global security. WikiLeaks’ defenders—self-styled “hacktivists”—are assaulting online bulwarks such as Amazon, Facebook and credit card companies that tried to sever ties with WikiLeaks.

In our networked world, critical infrastructures that enable finance and banking, transportation, health care delivery and water and power utilities are interconnected and, consequently, vulnerable to attack.

“The Internet was designed to be collaborative and rapidly expandable and to have low barriers to technological innovation; security and identity management were lower priorities,” says William Lynn, deputy secretary of defense and the Pentagon’s cybersecurity architect. “Adept programmers will find vulnerabilities and overcome security measures put in place to prevent intrusions.”

Thus, it is simply not possible to build a wall around the nation’s critical infrastructures, be they civilian, military or intelligence assets. Rather, what are needed are layered and adaptive defenses that can be advanced to embrace cloud computing and mobile communications.

Here at TRUST, the Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology, we are finding ways to keep defense and civilian infrastructure running, even under adversarial attacks. TRUST is a multi-campus cybersecurity research and education center headquartered at UC Berkeley, focusing on the security of physical, financial and health care infrastructures.

Our emphasis is on integrating a full suite of technology innovations with policy considerations and business models to design durable and trustworthy information systems. The DETER (Cyber Defense Evaluation Testing and Experimental Research) testbed, for example, is now used by federal departments in defense, homeland security and energy for simulating and defending against malicious code and denial of service attacks in information networks. In our work, it is critical for us to ensure that cyberdefenses are built and deployed in ways that protect individual freedoms and earn the trust of citizens and consumers.

After all, we want an open Internet as well as one that is secure and reliable. Balancing these competing objectives is one of the grand challenges of our day, demanding the cross-disciplinary thinking and innovation for which Berkeley Engineering is known. How best can we meet this challenge? I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

S. Shankar Sastry
Dean and Roy W. Carlson Professor of Engineering
Director, Blum Center for Developing Economies
Email Dean Sastry

Topics: EECS, Education & outreach