Spooky news in tech and computing this week from Peter Neumann, one of the nation's leading specialists in computer security.
Neumann has long studied the weaknesses in computer and network security. He sees increasing potential for systemic risk and points out that the haphazard development of the current computer and networking security makes it more vulnerable than ever. Working with DARPA, the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Neumann is exploring two separate but parallel efforts. His proposed solutions: tear it all apart and start over, studying the past half century's research, cherry-picking the best ideas and building from scratch. The primary programs are called CRASH, for Clean-Slate Design of Resilient Adaptive Secure Hosts; and MRC, for Mission-Oriented Resilient Clouds.
Taking cues from biology, Howard Shrobe, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist who is now a DARPA program manager working with Neumann cites the monoculture of the computer "ecosystem" of desktop, servers and networks, as a major threat. "Nature abhors monocultures, and that's exactly what we have in the computer world today," said Shrobe. "Eighty per cent are running the same operating system."
Others agree that the timing is right for an overhaul, highlighting the industry transition from desktop to mobile systems as an impetus to completely rethink computing. Richard A. Clarke, former US counterterrorism czar and an author of Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It, suggests the enormous cost to redisign at a systems level is worth it and would result in significantly higher performance "let's start it and see if it works better and let the marketplace decide."
Why is this relevant in an investment context?
A change in computing and network architecture is the kind of disruptive innovation that has the potential to change the risk profile and business process across a wide range of industries. The NYT article on Neumann came out on the same day as a(nother) bast of The Motley Fool's thesis on the massively disruptive power of Cloud Computing. (Spoiler alter: Fool's research posits that a transition to the Cloud will bring Microsoft to its knees and benefit firms like Google which, while already highly valued, stand to undergo enormous additional growth because of the scope and scale of the change in infrastructure of how the world works). The Fool's investment analysts liken a shift from enterprise networks to the Cloud to the creation of power utilities.
With presidential elections around the corner and computer security now factoring into military and national security plans, sea changes in computing infrastructure will be an issue to track. The point is that change is afoot, with far reaching consequences for business and personal life. There are many possible outcomes, and staying put at the status quo is not one of them. Trick, or Treat?