Computer science graduate student wins second place in Microsoft essay contest

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Graduate student Nicolas Papernot won second place in an essay contest with the topic "Cyberspace 2025: Navigating the Future of Cyberspace Policy," sponsored by Microsoft.

The contest welcomed original research from students of any university level and challenged students to think about how cyberspace will be in 10 years.

According to the Microsoft website, "Cybersecurity is a policy priority for many governments, yet there is limited understanding of how policy choices made today will impact a country's cyberspace tomorrow."

Papernot, a computer science and engineering student in a double master of science degree program between Penn State and Ecole Centrale de Lyon in France, wrote that cybersecurity should evolve to take up new challenges raised by current technological trends.

Each writer was asked to address topics predicting cybersecurity and world conditions in 2025, such as priority cybersecurity issues, the priority actions that should be taken by stakeholders to improve cybersecurity and what impacts on societies and economies will ensuring or failing to ensure cybersecurity have.

Papernot discussed how the technological landscape is currently disrupted by innovative concepts like cloud computing, the Internet of Things and greater connectivity to the Internet.

"I argue that the cyberspace of 2025 will be shaped in a way such that addressing new security risks and threats will require the creation of a rigorous science of security," Papernot said. "I believe it to be the only way to reduce the current asymmetry that favors attackers and makes it impossible to design a 100 percent secure computer system."

Various stakeholders (governments, businesses, academia, nongovernmental organizations) are involved in computer security, but they must collaborate for their actions to have a significant impact on the security of our cyberspace, Papernot explained.

In his essay, he mentioned the example of the Cyber-Security Collaborative Research Alliance, a consortium led by his adviser, computer science and engineering professor Patrick McDaniel. It is aimed at developing the foundations of a science of security.

"I am currently contributing to this consortium by developing system reconfigurations," Papernot said. "The goal of these reconfigurations is to adapt a computer system to the evolving risks, threats and environment in order to improve its overall security." 

The top three essayists won prizes of $5,000, $3,000 and $2,000, respectively.

Papernot said he plans to use his $3,000 to buy equipment to continue experimenting with computer security.

Last Updated February 27, 2015