The next time you open up Google’s Chrome Web browser,
take a look at the little green icon that appears in the left corner of the URL bar whenever you’re on a secure website. It’s
a lock, and if it’s green it signals that the website you’re on is
encrypting data as it flows between you and the site. But not
everyone knows what it is or what it represents, and that’s
where Adrienne Porter Felt comes in.
As a software engineer for Chrome, Porter Felt has taken
on the task of making the Internet more secure and helping users of the world’s most popular browser make smart,
informed choices about their safety and privacy while online.
This includes heading a years-long push to convince the
world’s websites, which traditionally used the unencrypted
HTTP to send data from one point to another, to switch to the
secure version, HTTPS.
Why is it tricky to come up with online security measures that
work for all kinds of people?
Part of it is that security measures generally stop people from
doing things. The way we keep you safe is by telling you no.
But this has very real costs. You can scare people … you can
keep people from using the Internet at all. On the other hand,
if you don’t do anything you put people and their data at very
real risk. So you have to figure out how to strike just the right
balance. And with multiple billion users it’s very di;cult to
find a balance that makes everyone happy.
One way you are trying to make people safer while they’re online
is by encouraging websites to use HTTPS. What makes this a
Think about a site like the Washington Post. When you go to
the Washington Post’s home page, there’s going to be 100 different [assets from various websites] that are loaded. All of
those have to support HTTPS before the Washington Post
itself can do it. Sites need to make sure there’s no revenue hit,
they need to make sure there’s no [search] ranking hit, they
need to make sure there’s no performance hit. And then they
can switch. All these things can be done. Sites are transitioning very successfully at scale now. But it is work.
Now that many of the biggest websites have made the switch
from HTTP to HTTPS, what are you focusing on?
The long tail is a big problem. There are lots and lots of sites
that are out there. Some that are barely maintained, some
that are run by your dentist, your hairdresser, a teacher at a
local elementary school, and I don’t see them rushing to add
support for HTTPS. The question is now, “Okay, we’ve hit all
the really popular sites, we’re starting to get to the medium
sites—what do we do for the rest of the Internet?” I don’t
want to get in a state where oh, great, you’re secure if you go
to a big company but not if you go to a small, independent
site. Because I still want people to feel like they can go everywhere on the Web. —Rachel Metz
Anca Dragan Anca Dragan, an assistant professor of electrical engi- neering and computer science at UC Berkeley, is working
to distill complicated or vague human behavior into simple
mathematical models that robots can understand. She says
many conflicts that arise when humans and robots try to
work together come from a lack of transparency about each
other’s intentions. Teaching a robot to understand how it
might influence a person’s behavior could solve that. One
pressing application for this work is in helping self-driving
cars and human-driven cars to anticipate each other’s next
moves. —Julia Sklar
HELPING ROBOTS AND
PEOPLE MAKE SENSE OF
“WE VIEW OUR TECHNOLOGY AS A CENTRAL
NERVOUS SYSTEM FOR COMPANIES THAT
AGGREGATES DATA AND MAKES SENSE OF IT
WITHIN MILLISECONDS, AT SCALE.”
—Neha Narkhede, co-inventor of Apache Kafka, software for massive data processing in real time.
She’s also CTO of Confluent, which builds tools to enhance Kafka. (as told to Elizabeth Woyke)