GMU grad student faces possible classifcation of his dissertation


The Washington Post is reporting that a student from GMU (George Mason University) is in a bit of a bind. His previously "tedious and unimportant" (his professor's words) PhD dissertation is now a very hot commodity in security circles and may be classified by the US Government if he isn't careful.

Sean Gorman, a 29-year old PhD candidate and his partner in research, assistant professor Laurie Schintler, have created a program that displays physical connections between power stations, substations, and major customers; telecommunications hubs, central offices, and major facilities; and various other infrastructure items.

The problem is that although this data is interesting to the government and to industry for purposes of pointing out weaknesses that should be addressed, it is also invaluable to the folks who long to shut down the US by throwing a virtual wrench into the economic works. The thesis program is basically a roadmap to weak points in the power, telephone, and information grids.

But, out of the question of this particular application of the public data (no confidential or classified data was used in creating this database) comes a deeper question of whether this data should be available at all. Telecommunications and power company executives are now concerned that providing review information about their networks (such as would be done during the zoning process) they may be jeopardizing those networks unnecessarily.

Whereas that sounds nice, restricting the access to the information is not the answer. The fact of the matter is that the information will be available whether they want it to be or not. Somebody will have a copy of the information, and if a terrorist organization wants it, then it will be available to them. A much more responsible approach (although more expensive) is to create a more resilient mesh of networks that self-heals when individual locations are taken out. By doing this, you make the problem of attacking infrastructure so difficult that you render it a useless terror device.