Crash-proof. Bug-free. Secure. Not words that most people
would associate with the computer systems they use every
day. The risks of identity theft, e-mail viruses, denial-of-service
attacks, system glitches and other hazards often make
the average person’s reliance on computer systems
more of a leap of faith than a bond of trust.
Behind the scenes, information technology networks control
electrical grids, communications systems, financial markets
and national defense. They support the critical infrastructure
that contributes to economic prosperity, and they provide
the foundation for the quality of life we enjoy.
But as our reliance on these networks grows, so does our
vulnerability. A 1998 solar storm knocked out a communications
satellite and disrupted pager and cell phone networks. On
September 11, 2001, regional communications and information
utilities were interrupted with the loss of the twin towers.
Information technology failures also contributed to the Northeast's
blackout in August 2003. And on an almost daily basis, malicious
worms, unwittingly circulated viruses and denial-of-service
attacks raise Internet alarms and siphon away productive
Society requires systems you can count on, and developing
such systems ranks as a significant grand challenge for the
computer and information sciences. Research is needed into
tools to decrease the occurrence of software bugs, administration
tools that reduce configuration errors and close security
loopholes, security mechanisms that the average person can
understand and use, systems that heal themselves when problems
arise and new approaches to building reliable software from
modular parts, among other areas.
NSF supports many research projects aimed at building more
reliable and secure information technology systems. The goal
for the Cyber Trust program, to cite one example, is to make
these systems—and their successors—not only less
vulnerable to attacks and abuse, but also less likely to
corrupt data, expose private information or fail when the
Ultimately, society may demand that researchers must create
systems you can count on before allowing information technology
to expand further into our economy, our critical infrastructure
and our lives.
A Team of Your Own [Next]
The Computing Research Association outlined five
Research Challenges in a report resulting from a three-day
workshop supported by the National Science Foundation. The
grand challenges relate to building the information systems
of the future and provide long-term goals for the activities
of the research community.