The need for speed

“In cyberspace, bad guys move faster. We need to think not of absolute security, but of adding speed bumps to the information superhighway,” said Andrew Odlyzko, professor and assistant vice president for research at the University of Minnesota. Odlyzko was at USF on Thursday evening to offer his take on Internet security as part of the USF Math Department’s Nagle Lecture Series.

Pop-ups, worms and Trojans have become household terms, widely known as potential sources of computer virus infection. As technology continues to grow and change, society becomes ever more dependent upon it. Sadly, there are people who are nearly as dynamic in their ability to attack and corrupt electronic databases. While there is no way to put a total stop to the creation and spread of viruses, Odlyzko said, “There are things we can do to slow them down.

“The role of cyberspace is increasing. Attacks and other actions in cyberspace are faster and more far-reaching than in the physical world.”

Comparing cyberspace to reality, Odlyzko pointed out “No physical safe is 100 percent secure, either.”

One major problem facing Internet security is the complexity of the mathematics and science that go into the design and operation of computing systems.

“People and formal methods don’t mix well,” Odlyzko said.

Odlyzko did not offer much hope of a hacker-free cyberspace in the near future. He did, however, try to ease worries of the potential for widespread impact resulting from a major cyber attack. “The total economy is not as threatened as it seems. The lowest levels of economic losses have come from computer crime,” Odlyzko said. He also indicated that he did not believe terrorists were likely to utilize areas of low security in cyberspace to their advantage.

Mathematics graduate student David Kephart attended the lecture and commented, “The nice thing about this is that Odlyzko is an expert on Internet security. What he is saying (about security) is not that good. But like he pointed out, it’s not the end of the world.” Odlyzko closed his lecture pointing out unexpected positives to Internet insecurity, one of which was job security for certain sectors of the computing industry.