Papers and Pipers

Posted on 20th June 2016

The week of February 14 was one of the hardest weeks I’ve had. It was both physically and mentally exhausting with a good dose of stress. Apparently this happens in academia but I sure hope to avoid it as much as possible. That week contained three events of significance. An international flight to Barbados, the Glee Club Spring Show, and the USENIX security deadline. Of these, by far the most important was the deadline.

USENIX security is the top publishing venue in my field (Applied Cryptography and Security) and my group had three papers to submit. Two of the three were very high profile and collaborative, and the one remaining a product of our group alone. They were also not quite ready to be published. The one which was eventually accepted “DROWN: Breaking TLS using SSLv2” describes a method by which a malicious person could read internet communications that were supposedly encrypted, numbering up to 29% of all HTTPS connections. excitingly enough our work was even reported in the mainstream media, but this didn’t alleviate the amount of work needed to get it ready for publication.

Another one of the publications with which I was involved was “A Systematic Analysis of the Juniper Dual EC Incident” that examines how attempts to backdoor the security capabilities of a class of corporate network devices backfired and allowed a malicious entity to commandeer it for themselves. Again our research was reported in the media much to my excitement. Both papers had policy implications as decisions made for policy reasons impacted the development of the above technologies and lead both directly and indirectly to the vulnerabilities. My lab and I consider this to be a fruitful research direction and hope to publish more papers in related areas.

These two and the other paper ensured my days started early, and even without rehearsals, would have ended late. I was in the lab every day by 9.30AM, and left at around 6.30PM for rehearsal. Rehearsals were enjoyable but I couldn’t fully commit myself knowing there was work to be done. I made sure I was present for the bare minimum needed to perform and left most nights at 10PM to get back to the lab to stay there until 3 or 4AM when Nadia, Luke, Josh Fried (a new undergraduate lab-mate) and I physically couldn’t stay productive. While the work environment was fun with Phillip Glass or Europop in the background, it was tough to focus and be productive for so many hours a day. Definitely not the optimal way for me to produce high quality work consistently.

The show later in the week was immensely enjoyable, despite the publication pressure. I featured as one of three depressed clowns in a failing circus, and had a few starring moments. The Penn Pipers (the Glee Club barbershop and do-wop barbershop subset) also had two numbers in the show and I had a few more moments there. Overall, the best part of the show was the musicality that our new director Joshua Glassman brought to our ensemble. This being our first spring show with him presented many challenges, and his busy schedule as a freelance musician all put pressures on everyone, but gladly, it all came together.

Finally, there was my flight to Barbados for a conference, scheduled to depart 6AM Sunday morning from JFK airport, NYC. Unfortunately, the final performance of the Glee Club show was scheduled for less than 12 hours prior, and so immediately following the closing of the curtains, I grabbed by bag, sprinted to a cab and caught the train to NYC…

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