Is it possible ...
to protect our vital systems from cyber attacks?
We Are At Risk
We've become immune to the news of another hack. How many of us have had our personal information on a website that has been hacked? And that's just from the ones that have been discovered. How can that be? In the US, the government and academic communities are ripe with some of the brightest and best funded. And then there are the VC-backed companies vying to be the protector of us all. Yet the problems continue, with risks ranging from our personal finances to national security.
Biology to the Rescue
We all know someone with cancer. Lung cancer? Check. Breast cancer? Check. Pancreatic cancer? Check. Blood cancer? Check. The list is too long.
Do you know anyone with heart cancer? I didn't think so. And that is biology's clue for addressing cyber security.
Cancer is the result of normal cells shifting to a state of uncontrolled growth, possible only for cells that are capable of dividing and replicating. Heart cells cannot do that. Once your heart muscle cells are in place, those are the muscle cells you are going to have. Some evidence suggests that new muscle cells are formed throughout life, but those cells also become "terminally differentiated" - which means they have their full potential realized. Heart muscle cells that are incapable of dividing are not going to form tumors.
In contrast, the cells lining of your intestines are constantly dying and being replaced, and those cells are capable of dividing to replace cells next to them that are dying. Get a bad sunburn? The outer layers of skin will die and peel off. No problem, the cells underneath are capable of dividing and forming new layers of skin. Unfortunately, that means they can go off-script and turn into skin cancer.
How does this related to cyber security? If we make computer chips that are capable of performing a huge number of functions, they can be hijacked to perform different ones than we intend. In contrast, if we have a very basic computer chip - for example that can only function as a telephone, then that chip cannot be hijacked to alter how the electricity flows in/out of your home or office.
One solution to cyber security is to design and build computer chips for dedicated function, without massive flexibility and open-ended capabilities. Our computerized devices/systems should be like our hearts, beating reliably, responding to changing needs, but only performing the tasks that are intended and controllable.
The foundation of the solution is to shift to the manufacture and deployment of task-capable devices.
Successful design and "use" of task-capable devices
1. Word processing/spreadsheet
3. Content delivery
4. Financial transactions
5. Network routers/switches
6. Instrument sensors
7. Wireless communications