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Privacy, Protection, and Personal Safety

One of the great things about working in a top-10 computer science department is that I get to see which fields are really hot. At the University of Washington I get the added bonus of working with faculty who care deeply about teaching. I get to see both of these in spades when I wander three doors down the hallway to the always busy office of Yoshi Kohno. Yoshi is our security guy. Computer security, that is.

It's abundantly clear that security is a hot topic these days. Everyone is scrambling to figure out how to keep our systems secure. And Yoshi can give you endless examples of how the technology has gotten way out ahead of the security. We are deploying computer applications all the time without worrying about whether they are secure. This is an issue for privacy and protection of intellectual property and national security and even personal safety.

Yoshi and his students figure out all sorts of fascinating vulnerabilities in commonly used technologies. They'll show you how they can use the keyless entry mechanism in your car to steal it. Then they'll point out that a stalker can hack into the communication between your tennis shoes and your wristband health monitor to track you as you go on your evening jog. They'll even show you stuff straight out of a spy movie where they drive up next to your car and order it to disable the breaks and accelerate out of control.

Yoshi teaches the most popular undergraduate course in our department. The security course regularly fills up before the end of the first day of registration. This is partly because the field is hot, but also because Yoshi is such a creative teacher. He has written papers on his use of "science fiction prototyping" to get students to think about potential security scenarios. And Yoshi has developed a game that he hopes will be used by students in K-12 and in college. It is a card game called Control-Alt-Hack. Students pretend that they work for a computer security company that does ethical hacking to help organizations find any security vulnerabilities. Each character has different hacking skills and the players work through various scenarios to see if they can find security problems that should be addressed.

Stuart Reges, Principal Lecturer, University of Washington
Faculty Representative, CSTA Board

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