CSE
CSE
CSE CSE


Defense Event

Security Hazards When Law is Code

Eric Wustrow


 
Monday, November 09, 2015
4:30pm - 6:30pm
3725 Beyster Bldg.

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About the Event

As software continues to eat the world, there is an increasing pressure to automate every aspect of society, from self-driving cars, to algorithmic trading on the stock market. As this pressure manifests into software implementations of everything, there are obviously security concerns to be addressed across many areas. But are there some domains and fields that are distinctly susceptible to attacks, making them difficult to secure? This thesis argues that one domain in particular---public policy and law---is inherently difficult to automate securely using software-only implementations. This is in large part because law and policy are written in a manner that expects them to be flexibly interpreted to be fair or just. Traditionally, this interpreting is done by judges and regulators who are capable of understanding the intent of the laws they are enforcing. However, when these laws are instead written in code, and interpreted by a machine, this capability to understand goes away. Since they blindly follow written rules, computers can be deterministically tricked to perform actions counter to their intended behavior. This thesis covers three case studies of law and policy being implemented in code, and the security vulnerabilities they introduce in practice. The first study is a security analysis of a previously deployed Internet voting system, and shows how attackers could change the outcome of elections carried out online. The second study looks at airport security, investigating how full-body scanners can be defeated in practice, allowing attackers to conceal contraband such as weapons or high explosives past airport checkpoints. Finally, this thesis also studies how an Internet censorship system such as China's Great Firewall can be circumvented by techniques that exploit the methods employed by the censors themselves. To address these concerns of securing software implementations of law, a hybrid human-computer approach can be used. By combining the strengths of computers speed and cost) and humans (ability to interpret and understand), systems can be made more secure and more efficient than a method employing either alone.

Additional Information

Sponsor(s): J. Alex Halderman

Open to: Public