Newton Lecture Series: Alex Stamos

alex-stamos-newton-seriesWhat’s it like keeping users safe on the world’s largest social media network?

Alex Stamos, Chief Security Officer at Facebook, joined The Sutardja Center’s Newton Lecture Series to discuss entrepreneurship and the modern challenges of cybersecurity in a fireside chat with UC Berkeley Professor Vern Paxson.

Stamos, a Sacramento native, graduated from Berkeley with a degree in EECS in 2001. After working at midsize startups, Stamos saw an opportunity to found his own company.  “The most important part of starting a company is to do it with people you like.  My partners and I were all in different parts of our lives, but we were all in the situation where we thought – this is our chance, let’s roll the dice.”

For Stamos, the gamble paid off.  He went on to co-found iSec Partners, a San Francisco-based security consulting firm which was acquired by NCC group in 2010.

When asked how the computer security field has changed since he graduated from Berkeley, Stamos said, “In 2001 [a lot less people] had internet access.  For those people, the internet was like a fun thing where you could do some research, do some reading.  And now the internet is a critical part of the lives of close to 3 billion people.  When the Morris worm happened [in 1988], and the entire internet shutdown, nobody died.  That would not be true today if the internet just stopped working, or if we had a worm that infected 90% of internet connections.  People would die, or people would lose their jobs, or there would be mass chaos.”

As the internet becomes more intertwined with every aspect of daily life, the responsibility of computer security professionals like Stamos has grown.  Additionally, the challenge of keeping users safe has become increasingly difficult as more people get online around the world for the first time.

“The median internet user lives in a developing country that is either not a democracy, or is a democracy without a very good human rights record.  They are accessing the internet through a very cheap smartphone…they have no experience with the computing metaphors that we have all grown up with.  Metaphors like how password reset works – or [even] the idea of the password.”

At the end of the lecture, a student asked, “What habits and qualities do you think set you apart in the CS world?”

Stamos gave a very appropriate answer.  “Self-reliance, right?  Being able to get stuff done on your own is the one of the most important aspects.”

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