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Producing the Future of IT at MIT

A powerful security standard and new Internet protocols are among the innovations being hatched at MIT.

By Gary Anthes
July 26, 2004 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - IT pragmatists in the corporate world might wonder what they could learn from the eggheads in academia. The answer is, quite a lot – such as how to secure systems from all sides – says MIT's Jerry Grochow. He recently told Computerworld's Gary H. Anthes how MIT contributes to the future of IT.

What has MIT done for the computer world? Going back to the 1960s, Project MAC – which I worked on as a grad student – developed Multics, which spawned Unix. The principles of Multics exist in every major operating system today. MIT was one of the leaders in Arpanet technology and the invention of TCP/IP. Then there's Project Athena from the 1980s that developed Kerberos, a security protocol that Microsoft, Apple and Sun use. We have had some interest recently in our informal Kerberos alliance from a number of Wall Street firms.

What's happening on campus now that might have an effect on IT in the future? There's research going on in Internet protocols beyond TCP/IP. We may have IP forever, but there may be different things riding on top of it beyond TCP that have different characteristics for very low latency, which is a big issue when you ship big data around the network. We've got Dave Clark, who's been a senior researcher for many years in Internet protocols.

How will MIT deal with the information explosion? We are in the process of upgrading the network backbone on campus from a gigabit per second to 10Gbit/sec., the highest commercially viable speed at this point. Physicists are now doing experiments sending a half terabyte from here to CERN [in Geneva] and back again and wanting to do it in near real time.

What lessons might the corporate world draw from MIT? We are the ultimate in the heterogeneous environment. Maybe corporations think they can enforce being an all-Microsoft shop, for example, but there are always some Macs around and always some Unix machines around, and now, of course, there are a lot of Linux machines.

So how have you dealt with security, for example? Universities are not places where you put up a firewall on the front end of the network and assume you have security. Threats are as likely to come from the inside as the outside. We have ... intrusion-detection systems that, interestingly, point both ways – outward but also inward. And that is what major corporations are finding they need to do. We have adopted security structures that are more application-based and role-based rather than firewall-based. We have Kerberos security, where every person on campus has a security ID that is recognized and interrogated by each application in a consistent way, and where people have different roles with regard to different applications. The Roles system is an additional capability that we developed on top of the basic Kerberos structure. Several other universities have expressed interest in that. CIOs also are looking at what will be the next generation in security architecture that will protect from the inside as well as the outside.

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