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Research: Robustness in Complex Systems

While the network engineering world tends to use the word resilience to describe a system that will support rapid change in the real world, another word often used in computer science is robustness. What makes a system robust or resilient? If you ask a network engineer this question, the most likely answer you will get is something like there is no single point of failure. This common answer, however, does not go “far enough” in describing resilience. For instance, it is at least sometimes the case that adding more redundancy into a network can actually harm MTTR. A simple example: adding more links in parallel can cause the control plane to converge more slowly; at some point, the time to converge can be reduced enough to offset the higher path availability.

In other cases, automating the response to a change in the network can harm MTTR. For instance, we often nail a static route up and redistribute that, rather than redistributing live routing information between protocols. Experience shows that sometimes not reacting automatically is better than reacting automatically.

This post will look at a paper that examines robustness more deeply, Robustness in Complexity Systems,” by Steven Gribble. While this Continue reading

Research: Bridging the Air Gap

Way back in the old days, the unit I worked at in the US Air Force had a room with a lot of equipment used for processing classified information. Among this equipment was a Zenith Z-250 with an odd sort of keyboard and a very low resolution screen. A fine metal mesh embedded in a semi-clear substrate was glued to the surface of the monitor. This was our TEMPEST rated computer, on which we could type up classified memos, read classified email, and the like. We normally connected it to the STU-3 through a modem (remember those) to send and receive various kinds of classified information.

Elovici, Mordechai Guri, Yuval. “Bridgeware: The Air-Gap Malware.” Accessed May 13, 2018. https://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2018/4/226377-bridgeware/abstract.

The idea of TEMPEST begins way back in 1985, when a Dutch researcher demonstrated “reading” the screen of a computer using some relatively cheap, and easy to assemble, equipment, from several feet away. The paper I’m looking at today provides a good overview of the many ways which have been discovered since this initial demonstration to transfer data from one computer to another across what should be an “air gap.” For instance, the TEMPEST rated computer described Continue reading

Weekend Reads: 051118: New spectre-class vulnerabilities, scraping data, and no middle ground on encryption

A team of security researchers has reportedly discovered a total of eight new “Spectre-class” vulnerabilities in Intel CPUs, which also affect at least a small number of ARM processors and may impact AMD processor architecture as well. Dubbed Spectre-Next Generation, or Spectre-NG, the partial details of the vulnerabilities were first leaked to journalists at German computer magazine Heise, which claims that Intel has classified four of the new vulnerabilities as “high risk” and remaining four as “medium.” —Mohit Kumar @Hacker News

As cities get smarter, their appetite and access to information is also increasing. The rise of data-generating technologies has given government agencies unprecedented opportunities to harness useful, real-time information about citizens. But governments often lack dedicated expertise and resources to collect, analyze, and ultimately turn such data into actionable information, and so have turned to private-sector companies and academic researchers to get at this information. —Joseph Jerome @CDT

Despite this renewed rhetoric, most experts continue to agree that exceptional access, no matter how you implement it, weakens security. The terminology might have changed, but the essential question has not: should technology companies be forced to develop a system that inherently harms their users? The answer hasn’t changed either: Continue reading

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