A new national center based at Iowa State University will try and build new defenses against hacking, phishing and the latest in computer attacks. I-S-U computer-science professor Doug Jacobson will direct the new Center for Information Protection, an idea he came up with and pitched to the National Science Foundation. The Foundation liked the idea so Jacobsen next lined up big companies interested in having the research done — and after enough were interested, NSF agreed to fund the Center, which he says is driven by the needs of the member companies instead of “what academicians want to do.” Some of the member companies create software aimed at enhancing computer security, some just need that kind of protection, Jacobson says. Big companies face the same issues we do at home, Jacobsen explains, “partly because computers are run by people.” They also are bigger targets, he says, and companies face identity-theft, intellectual-property and other issues while trying to keep their own information inside. Jacobson explains that security isn’t as simple as a wall blocking off a company’s computers. “I could make you a really, really, really secure network.” he offers. “I’ll just walk up and cut the cable coming into your building. You’ll be real secure, but you can’t get any work done.” Jacobson says the challenge is connecting computer users who don’t understand security with a world where there are security risks. Some of them could be more aware, he admits. He advises e-mail users who see the most common scams that “None of us have won the European lotto, somebody from Africa didn’t die and leave us a lot of money, and eBay is not trying to get us to change our user name and password every thirty seconds.” People who don’t watch out for the simplest of ripoffs kind of “do it to ourselves,” he points out. Then again, Jacobson says there are professionals out there trying to break into business networks and computers. “Back in the old days,” he says, half in jest, “Hacking was sort of the equivalent of painting your name on the side of a bridge — y’know, it was something you did, a rite of passage. Today it’s for financial gain, and when money gets involved, the stakes get a lot higher.” Jacobson says when it comes to stealing business and financial information, it’s hard to say whether computer crooks or carelessness cost us more. In addition to a 120-thousand-dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, the center has a dozen “industry partners” so far, companies that pay five-digit fees to take part and have the researchers focus on their security problems.
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