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8/1/2007
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Richard Clarke: Computers Are Best Friend Of Progress, And Security Its Worst Enemy

The former federal counterterrorism adviser tells security pros at the Black Hat USA conference that continuing to build more of the global economy on cyberspace as it exists today is dangerous business.

The convergence of all forms of technology is happening, allowing paralyzed hospital patients to move computer mice via brain waves and treating certain cases of epilepsy and depression through brain stimulation. It won't be long before human-machine interactions that tie the human brain directly into the Internet are possible. That is, if we can make cyberspace secure, former U.S. government counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke told attendees Wednesday at the Black Hat USA 2007 conference in Las Vegas.

The convergence of different technology disciplines -- IT, robotics, nanotech, and so forth -- has already begun, and "that's going to change the nature of the society we're in -- in your lifetime," added Clarke, chief counterterrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council during portions of the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations and currently chairman of Good Harbor Consulting.

Nanotechnology is "the ultimate machine-human interface," Clarke said, referring to tiny machines that have the potential clean out veins and detect diseases.

Indeed, the human genome couldn't have been decoded without superior computer processing power. Yet, there are still enormous security problems that plague computer software and systems.

Clarke warned that continuing to build more of the global economy on cyberspace as it exists today is dangerous business because "we've still secured very little of cyberspace." Much of the transactions that users engage in are not authenticated and encryption is underutilized.

That's where the Black Hat audience comes in. Clark encouraged the security researchers in attendance to not only continue their work finding software vulnerabilities and reporting them to the vendors -- "because I know a lot of other people out there are going to find them and exploit them," he said -- but also to push for changes in government and industry policy and practices that inhibit security advances.

Clarke appealed to the security pros in attendance to push for advances in IT security because they not only understand the technology, but what's at stake if cyberspace continues on its current insecure path. Added Clarke, "Sure, it's a really hard problem, but a lot could get done that's relatively easy."

Universal standards for writing more secure software, adoption of encryption, and better protection of the Domain Name Servers that underpin the Internet are all measures within the grasp of industry and government today. They would do well to heed Clarke's warnings.

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