2003-2009 Special Focus on Communication Security and Information Privacy: Overview

Vitally important aspects of our modern society have become dependent on rapid and secure communication, which is increasingly electronic. The new electronic age offers vast potential for new services and applications, but gives rise to serious new vulnerabilities and security threats. Moreover, many of the most important new applications come at the price of threats to privacy. We plan a 3-year ``special focus'' on Communication Security and Information Privacy, beginning in summer 2003, that will explore the new vulnerabilities and threats and new methods for dealing with them.

Within the last decade a tremendous transition has taken place in communications networks. Previously, nearly all communication, whether data, voice or other media, was carried over private networks. Anyone who was not a customer of the network provider was not given physical access to the network. Securing such networks was relatively straightforward. While a great deal of data and media traffic still run over circuit switched or packet switched ATM or Frame Relay private networks, a huge amount and variety of data and media traffic now run over the public Internet, so much so that Internet is now an important national infrastructure whose integrity is vital to the functioning of our economy, culture, and government. The migration of communication services to the Internet is still very much in progress. This migration brings with it new and complex challenges for maintaining communication security.

There are many factors driving the migration to the Internet. One is universal connectivity. The Internet protocol allows users with many different types of local area network technologies (e.g., Ethernet, and 802.11) to be integrated into a single large network. This allows for a type of positive feedback often referred to as the ``network effect.'' The network grows quickly because the number of users, servers, and devices that are already reachable on the Internet make it very valuable to any new IP device. A second factor is unification. Unlike the circuit switched world for which signaling and data/media were carried by two separate networks, signaling and data/media can both be carried over the Internet. For network providers, migrating their services onto an Internet backbone means that they need only deploy, manage, and control a single network, thereby reducing their cost of providing services. Finally, the ultimate promise of the Internet is as a platform for integrating a variety of services such as voice, instant messaging, mobile presence, multimedia, Web and data services. While these are powerful factors driving the migration to IP communications, they have serious security repercussions. Indeed, securing an extremely large, shared services, packet-based IP network with a large number of administrative domains is a much more complex task than securing segregated/circuit switched networks.

Furthermore, through the collection and dissemination of vast amounts of data, the Internet allows users to take advantage of new functionalities that inherently require new notions of security. For example, new issues of privacy for Internet users and applications are arising due to the multitude of data available online. This new electronic reality and the vast potential for interaction between users and computers give rise to new digital applications and services once thought possibly only in the physical tangible world. This, in turn, creates the need for the invention and implementation of new security and cryptographic techniques. Enabling secure electronic commerce and securing digital rights management are some central examples of the new challenges faced in the security area.

Some of the most exciting progress in the fields of communication security and information privacy has come because of the interconections of practitioners in these fields with researchers developing relevant methods of theoretical computer science and mathematics. This project will explore these interconnections in order to address some of the fundamental challenges to communication security and information privacy posed by the rapid transition and remarkable growth of new applications in today's communication networks. The project will be carried out in the context of a three-year ``special focus" at DIMACS, the Center for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science. The project will be centered around workshops and research ``working groups,'' with a tutorial, visitor program, and graduate student program.

The Themes of the Special Focus Include:

Opportunities to Participate: The Special Focus will include:
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Document last modified on June 3, 2008.