Cyber Talk Radio: Network Security at Bell Labs

Bret Piatt, CTR Host, and Bill Cheswick, computer security and networking expert - Episode 165 of Cyber Talk Radio

This past Saturday, November 23, episode 165 of Cyber Talk Radio hit the air on 1200 WOAI and iHeartRadio streaming. I sat down with Bill Cheswick, computer security and networking expert, to discuss his research and work at Bell Labs and his more recent research in internet mapping and password security.

What’s Bill’s journey to Bell Labs? Well, he started with an interest in chemistry in high school, and found his way to computers in college. He got a great opportunity to work at Bell Labs after college in the ‘80s and worked on researching and building their firewall. A big milestone for him was when the Morris worm didn’t get past Bell Labs’ firewall! It turns out the Bill and Bret have a connection through their former workplaces — Bret used to work for AT&T when it took over Bell Labs! After Bill started writing papers and ended up being good at it, he found his niche in research. Around 1991, he proposed that firewalls could be a product offering, but AT&T wasn’t interested yet. After 15 years, they finally decided to offer it. With over a thousand Ph.D.s in Bell Labs’ research department alone, there were lots of opportunities for collaboration. In the early ‘90s, he ran into his old friend Steven Bellovin, and soon after they began to co-author the first book on firewalls, which was published in May 1994 and sold 100,000 copies. After that, Bill started hanging out with CIOs who didn't know where their networks were! He became very interested in network mapping, which is especially important for business wifi networks that can easily become victim to surveillance wifi and malicious networks. He has worked on his many personal projects since “retiring.” Before the break, we talk briefly about password security and authentication, which would work better, In Bill’s opinion, if websites limited the number of attempts in order to keep computer systems from guessing millions different password versions. After the break, Bill will talk about a new tool to help people find secure passphrases that they can remember, similar to a mnemonic device.

After the break, we take a look at what3words, which is an app and web page that turns every eight square meters on earth into a group of three randomized words. A smart way to create a memorable passphrase is to pick an obscure place that you will remember and use the three words attached to it. What does Bill think about biometrics giving us access to our devices and accounts? It’s not good enough for authentication purposes. Google’s recently written a paper about behavioral authentication, called BeyondCorp. Where is the internet heading in the future? Bill thinks we’re slowly getting better, safer. We’re still really in the very early stages of the internet. From what he’s heard from employees, Apple’s security really is tighter than the CIA’s — so Apple device users should feel pretty safe.

Listen to the full episode replay to learn more about Bill’s vast knowledge of all things firewalls, networks and beyond.

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