With armies of hackers knocking on the door of every computer and network on the Internet, and major data breaches of corporations and government agencies reported on a regular basis, many experts are cynical about whether data security is even possible. But amid the cynicism, a system administration pioneer who coined the term “firewall” believes that with a few changes to the way things are done, the good guys can be victorious in the end.
Bill Cheswick, a visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and former security researcher at Bell Labs and AT&T, is giving a talk entitled “I think we can win!” at a meeting of the League of Professional System Administrators in New Jersey. The meeting will take place Thursday, December 3, at 7 p.m. at the Lawrence Library. For more information, visit www.meetup.com/lopsa-nj/.
Together with fellow researcher Steve Bellovin, Cheswick patented the first DNS Proxy, set up the first “honeypot” trap for intruders, and published the first book on firewalls in 1994. A DNS Proxy is a means of intercepting network traffic, and a “honeypot” is a cache of seemingly valuable data on a network that is actually heavily monitored and used to detect intruders. Cheswick also worked on a map of the Internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Cheswick compares the state of the Internet today to cars in 1913 shortly after their invention. He notes that for decades, car deaths increased as the crude and dangerous vehicles took to the roads. But in recent years deaths have been on the decline due to improved technology and infrastructure. He argues that computing can likewise be made less vulnerable to the dangers of hacking, and in his talk, explains the steps he believes need to be taken in order to get there.
Cheswick lives with his wife, Lorette, in Princeton, where he has modified his family’s home to be a “smart house.” By combining the house’s 1970s-era intercom system with a PC, Cheswick is able to get voice notifications when he gets mail, if there is a fire or a flood, when the International Space Station flies overhead, or when there is another interesting astronomical event.