WASHINGTON – The conversations of hundreds of technology industry and government leaders networking at TechAmerica's annual Technology and Government reception Wednesday fell to a lull as keynote speaker Vinton Cerf,Google's Vice President and Chief Internet Evangelist,took the stage.
Cerf,who was introduced as the father of the Internet as theme music from “2001: A Space Odyssey” played,spoke about challenges such as cybersecurity and broadband access. He described these issues as some of the lacking parts of “the incomplete Internet.”
One of the main security problems Cerf highlighted was authentication,the process of confirming that computer users are who they claim to be.
As an example of a common security problem,Cerf described a hypothetical virus that spreads as an e-mail attachment. The channel through which the e-mail travels is encrypted,protecting it from outside interference,but the virus may go undetected if security is not tough enough when the message is sent or received,Cerf said.
“The solutions to many of these problems do not involve simply applying cryptography in one place or another,” he said. “It's going to have to be integrated into many different layers.”
John Jones,chief information officer of the National Institutes of Health,said the cybersecurity concerns Cerf discussed applied to his agency's need for privacy protection of patient records.
Jones said authentication procedures need to be standardized across networks.
“I put on a key lock,and you're waiting to open a combination lock,” he said,describing the current lack of uniformity in security procedures. “The medical world is a very diffuse world. There are lots of independent doctors. So how am I going to arrange security with the thousands of doctors across the country?”
Cerf highlighted other challenges,including malware,or malicious software that infiltrates and damages computer systems,and the need to rethink media and copyright for the digital age.
He also mentioned the problem of Internet Protocol version 4,or IPv4,address space,which is quickly running out,requiring a new system called IPv6. Each computer using the Internet has at least one IP address,which it uses like a telephone number to communicate with other computers. Cerf said he expects that all free IPv4 addresses would be in use by 2011.
“They won't have that space,unless you want IPv6 addresses,of which there are a great many,specifically 3.4 times 10 to the 38th of them … only Congress can appreciate numbers on that scale,” Cerf said,to the laughter of the crowd.
Cerf voiced strong support for universal broadband,a type of high-speed Internet access,saying it has great potential to create jobs.
“The openness of that platform should generate a substantial amount of GDP improvement,” Cerf said. “If we're looking for a national policy that maximizes benefit for the entire country,I would rather see very,very high-speed Internet services available everywhere,including the rural parts of the country.”
Of the many topics Cerf touched on,the need for more robust authentication procedures,was the main theme that resonated with those at the reception,both in the public and private sectors.
“What he talked about as far as authentication is something we always talk about,” said Ranjitha Kurup,chief operating officer of Emergent Path,a San Diego information technology start-up.
John Grimes,former chief information officer for the Department of Defense,said Cerf's emphasis on authentication has far-reaching applications in government.
“He understands,probably better than anyone around,that to implement his recommendations is very hard,but he's right on target,” Grimes said. “The biggest technology issue is cybersecurity. Identity management and authentication is probably at the top of the list,like he said.”