Dissertation Could Be Security Threat

from the ah,-the-world-today dept

Fascinating story about a grad student’s dissertation that even his own professor called “tedious and unimportant”, but which US government officials are trying to make disappear. The dissertation apparently maps “every business and industrial sector in the American economy, layering on top the fiber-optic network that connects them.” It’s that map of the fiber-optic network that has the government worried. In these terrorist-fearing days, they say such a map could be very useful info to a would-be terrorist. The grad student in question, Sean Gorman, is surprised at all the attention he’s getting, and wondering what it means if his dissertation is classified, saying, “Crap. Does this mean I have to redo my PhD?” He does point out that, with the map, he can conduct tests of where the fiber optic network is most vulnerable, which is part of what scares the government. Some are saying he should be allowed to hand in the dissertation, get his grade, and then have the work “burned”. Others are pointing out that if he could build this map, so could anyone else (it’s all based on publicly available info) – and, thus, there’s a lot more value in getting the information out there and forcing the government to protect the fiber-optic infrastructure at its weakest points. Interestingly (though, not surprisingly), it’s not just the government that wants to suppress the data, but the big companies that are most effected by its potential release. When Gorman presented just a sliver of his results to a forum of CIOs from large financial institutions, they threatened to not allow him to leave the building with his laptop. All of this is missing the point. The data is out there. If Gorman is building the map, so is someone else. Denying that doesn’t solve the problem. Meanwhile, Gorman has more mundane concerns: “They’re worried about national security. I’m worried about getting my degree.”

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