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The SkyNet Virus
Why it is Unstoppable; How to Stop it




In Terminator 3, the SkyNet AI, exploiting the fundamental failure of computer security, distributes itself globally and becomes invulnerable to destruction. It then destroys the world when it gains control of America's nuclear missiles. While this is a considerably more serious disaster than any wrought so far by cyber-crackers, cyber-terrorists, or cyber-warriors, the flaws that make SkyNet unstoppable are the same flaws that make crackers, terrorists, and warriors possible. The same fix that eliminates crackers can terminate the Terminators.

This presentation starts by examining in detail the fundamental flaw in computer security today--the ludicrously excessive authority granted to even silly programs like Barbie Fashion Designer. We go on to see how the Principle of Least Authority (also known as the Principle of Least Privilege), ubiquitously applied by bundling designation with authorization, can end the madness while simultaneously making the user interface to security simpler than it is today.


As COO of Combex, Marc Stiegler led a DARPA research contract to build a working prototype of a capability secure desktop that is invulnerable to traditional computer viruses and trojan horses. Mr. Stiegler designed and implemented the application launch framework for the desktop, developing new forms of user interface/security integration that allow people to safely use even virus-ridden applications without having to work with even the normal litany of foolish security dialog boxes, passwords, and certificates. This desktop was later demonstrated in Mr. Stiegler's presentation, "Exploiting Virus-Laden Software", for the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in 2002. Highlights of Stiegler's earlier works include serving as VP of Engineering for Autodesk, and winning the Software Publisher's Association Best New Business Software Award for DecideRight in 1996.

Unless stated otherwise, all text on this page which is either unattributed or by Mark S. Miller is hereby placed in the public domain.
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