[ISN] Vint Cerf: Father Knows Best

From: InfoSec News (alerts@private)
Date: Mon Mar 05 2007 - 22:34:35 PST


By Kelly Jackson Higgins
Senior Editor
Dark Reading
MARCH 2, 2007

He's probably one of the only people at Google who can remember the 
Arpanet or what the Internet was like before the Web. And there's one 
thing few people know about Internet legend Vinton Cerf, who co-designed 
the TCP/IP stack that was used to build the Internet infrastructure: His 
secret wish is to be an actor.

Cerf, one of the founding fathers of the Internet, turns 64 in June, and 
says he's feeling more like "64 going on 26" these days. Although his 
role in Internet development precluded his acting career from taking off 
beyond small theatre in his college days, Cerf now finds himself in the 
second act of his Net career.

His move from MCI to the post of chief Internet evangelist at Google in 
late 2005 led him to a part of the Net he hadn't focused on before: the 
applications. "Having spent a good portion of my career on the 
infrastructure of the Internet, its fun to work on new ways to use it."

Cerf says he was attracted to the youthful Google organization -- where 
employees refer to themselves as "Googlers" -- because it's so wide 
open. "It is a vibrant and creative place where people do amazing things 
because they are too young to know 'you can't do that,'" he says. "The 
atmosphere is collegial and collaborative and certainly keeps me alert 
to new ideas and to re-thinking old ones."

The unassuming Cerf says he appreciates being a part of the creative 
flow at Google and, despite his history, he doesn't claim to have any 
more insight or vision than anyone else. "I encourage my Googler 
colleagues not to imagine that my ideas are any better than anyone 
else's," and to vet them accordingly.

Cerf's not directly involved in security development at Google, but he 
says he keeps close tabs. "I generally stay in touch with the Google 
security efforts, mostly in intellectual bumblebee-mode, looking for 
ways to be helpful in improving the security of the Google-based 

His job description at Google is longer than some people's resumes. It 
includes promoting Internet access to those who don't have it worldwide, 
Internet policy development, pollinating ideas among engineering groups 
in Google, and recruiting new Googlers and partners for the company.

Oh, and he also maintains his stints as chairman of the Internet 
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as well as his work 
on the Interplanetary Internet effort at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 
basically building out the Net into outer space (really). "These take up 
part of my regular working days," he says.

Cerf says he's only done a little casual research-hacking, mostly 
because of his time limitations with other projects. And unlike many of 
the younger Internet generation, he has no hacker handle or online 
alter-ego. He just goes by "Vint" or "VintCerf" in most role-playing or 
social networks, he says. "I haven't felt any need to create alter 

He remembers the days when being called a "hacker" was an honor. "It 
used to be an honorific at MIT. But the abusive practices that have 
become so visible on the Internet has given a bad connotation here," 
Cerf says. "Purists wish that we could apply some other terms so as to 
keep 'hacker' what it once was, but I think the language has become too 

This obviously isn't your father of the Internet's Internet. Cerf says 
the biggest threats are the proliferation of spam, botnets, malware, and 
denial-of-service attacks. "Much work is needed to increase the security 
of the Internet and its connected computers," he says, "and to make the 
environment more reliable for everyone."

Cerf says the emerging Domain Name Security (DNSSEC) technology could 
help secure the Net's DNS servers, which have increasingly become 
targets. And more filtering of source IP addresses is needed. "And use 
of IPSec would foil some higher-level protocol attacks, and digital 
signing of IP address assignment records could reduce some 
routing/spoofing risks," he says. OSes need to be more airtight, too, 
and two-factor authentication should be more the norm than plain old 
passwords, he says.

But Cerf knows securing his baby won't be easy. "Security is a mesh of 
actions and features and mechanisms," he says. "No one thing makes you 

Personality Bytes

* Worst day ever at work: "It was the night before the big MCI Mail 
  announcement -- millions of dollars in advertising and marketing... 
  national television broadcasts. And around 10 p.m., a key part of the 
  system stopped working. It didnt come up (after some very key people 
  were rousted out of bed) until about 45 minutes before showtime. I 
  thought my career at MCI was going to end on the day we were supposed 
  to launch the system."

* What Cerf's co-workers don't know about him: "I used to play the cello 
  -- and regret that I gave it up so entirely in pursuit of science and 

* Hangout: "Used book stores."

* After hours: "When I find time, I have my nose in a book."

* In his music player now: "Wagner and Beethoven."

* Comfort food: "Haagen-Dazs."

* PC or Mac: "Both."

* Wheels: "Jaguar... They just look cool."

* Actor who would play Cerf in a movie: "Well, how about that guy in 
  'Matrix' who played 'the Architect?'"

* Next career: "I have five books I want to write."

* Must meet: "[Evolutionary biologist and writer] Richard Dawkins."

* Heroes and mentors: "Jim Barksdale, George Soros, and George 

* Biggest career accomplishment: "I guess I would have to say successful 
  design and implementation of the Internet -- and getting so many 
  people to commit their time and careers to its evolution."

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