Brown CS News

John Savage Co-Authors A New Book: "Security In The Cyber Age"

    Click the links that follow for more news about John Savage and other recent accomplishments by our faculty.

    "Over the course of my career," says John Savage, An Wang Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Brown University, "I've become persuaded that cybersecurity represents a global threat, but we humans have confronted threats like this before. When new technology such as ChatGPT arrives on the scene, the human response often misjudges its potential benefits but also the threats it might pose."

    A secure nation and a secure world, John says, require a considered response to cyber threats as well as an international one, obligating the general public to increase their understanding of the subject. It's part of the reason why he and co-author Derek Reveron of the U.S. Naval War College have written a new book, published last month by Cambridge University Press.   

    Aimed squarely at the lay person, Security in the Cyber Age: An Introduction to Policy and Technology illuminates how cyberspace works, analyzes how state and non-state actors exploit its vulnerabilities, and offers ways to improve cybersecurity. Befitting the dual backgrounds of its authors as computer scientist and national security scholar-practitioner, the book offers technological, policy, and ethical ways to protect cyberspace, taking a deliberately multidisciplinary approach.

    "To be truly safe from cyber intrusions," John says, "we need to include a cultural and social perspective, a technological perspective, an economic perspective, a legal perspective, and more. If we want Congress to work on our behalf to regulate AI, we need trained experts in various fields who are communicating with lay people in an environment where trust has been developed. Brown CS teaches socially responsible computing because the ethical perspective is paramount. We must anticipate and mitigate technology's misuse." 

    If anything, Savage's wide-ranging career has led him to take a long view of his subject: he points out that even the idea of sovereign nation-states only dates back to the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

    "Today," he says, "we know that cyber tools have been and will be used in conflicts, but we need a better understanding of how: we've seen in the Ukraine war that disrupting the power grid proved very important, and that drones were more effective than using bits and bytes. And we need people who are deploying these tools to be aware of international humanitarian law."

    Instead of a radical, overnight change of policy, John says that an obvious next step is to follow best practices recommended by the National Security Agency and others, and not deploy new technology before acquiring a certain level of understanding: "We live in an era of broad integration of computer technology, creating the risk of cascading failure."

    But reasonable counter-measures exist, and Savage cites a Clinton-era program that can be seen as a precursor to current efforts, in which major corporations formed new networks, such as Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ISACs), to help each other in the event of a cybersecurity breach without making sensitive information public. Collaboration, he says, remains essential.

    "At this point in my career," John notes, "one of the things I'm more aware of than ever is the need for creativity and cooperation, for us to build new global norms and for nations to work together for the common good."  

    For more information, click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communications Manager Jesse C. Polhemus.