my 9/11/2008: DHS cybersecurity PI meeting

September 25th, 2008 by kc

Last week I attended the biannual principal investigators (PI) meeting of DHS Science and Technology Directorate’s Cybersecurity program. I found myself assigned the speaking slot at 9:30am on September 11, on the 26th floor of an Arlington building with a more majestic view of the Pentagon than I’ve ever had. I spent the coffee breaks looking out the windows at commercial aircraft continually flying right by the Pentagon en route to DCA, an airport the feds bravely did not close down after 9/11/2001. (who says the terrorists won?)

Doug Maughan, Program Manager for DHS’s Cybersecurity program (among other daunting and underfunded efforts he leads) runs a great meeting, keeping talks to reasonable lengths, and ensuring time for questions, breaks, and interaction. The meeting included talks on seven independent projects on botnet detection, analysis, and mitigation, with remarkably little overlap, suggesting the intimidatingly vast scope of work still needed to combat the threat botnets pose to the Internet and its users. More on that later.

Given the recent excitement surrounding Comcast’s traffic engineering principles moving from p2p discrimination to raw bandwidth metering (250GB/mo), I was also interested in the two projects to develop software for monitoring traffic with netflow: Secure Decisions’ Toolkit for NetFlow Analytics, and Dalhousie University’s FloViS: Flow Visualization System. Since Comcast’s answer to consumers asking how to know they are exceeding their Comcast-bequeathed byte limit is “We’re working on it, but for now you’re on your own, and btw our word is final”, I’m glad to know DHS is now investing in helping us understand our own network connections. We need that knowledge more each day, and private sector incentives seem not well aligned to provide it.

Although I am sympathetic with GAO’s conclusions that DHS is struggling with its many daunting cybersecurity challenges (though these reports get important details wrong, more on that later too), Doug’s PI meetings remind me that I know at least one guy fighting to advance cybersecurity goals the best he can under the economic and legal constraints that he, and researchers, must operate.

In other good news for security and safety, not to mention keeping your favorite Google executives out of jail, Google has finally decided to stop assisting terrorists with spreading their training videos, although Google still faces increasing public scrutiny for their efforts to protect privacy. In a related tribute to 9/11, Clay Jenkinson offers an apropos rebroadcast of a previous show in which he opined on just how free speech should be.

freedom is a bigger game than power
power is about what you can control
freedom is about what you can unleash.
— Harriet Rubin


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