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Making internet routing more secure

Tuesday, 26 April 2011 - 3:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
Having spent time studying about internet routing, Manav Bhatia realised that current protocols were not as secure as they were believed to be.

Managing the internet is a complex task. With the increasing number of users, handling the network of millions of computers and servers becomes difficult and it needs constant tweaking and fine tuning to ensure everything works smoothly.

Having spent time studying about internet routing, Manav Bhatia realised that current protocols were not as secure as they were believed to be. In the quest to make protocols more effective, Bhatia started working closely with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) — a global community of network designers, operators, and researchers responsible for producing technical specifications for the evolution of the internet architecture and smooth operation.

Bhatia’s security protocols help in making routing — managing the constant flow of requests for data — more secure, less susceptible to attacks and ensure smooth and safe data transfers via internet.

Bhatia tells DNA that his protocols and networking standards have been adopted by IETF and various router vendors.

Is this your first idea that clicked?
No. I started working on routing protocols almost eight to nine years ago. I had submitted several proposals to IETF. I had some radical ideas on how we could extend border gateway protocol (BGP) — a routing protocol that makes internet do a few things that it wasn’t doing back then. Those ideas were shelved, but I didn’t give up. I kept working on routing protocols and eventually I, along with my co-authors, noticed that attackers could hack networks running these protocols despite using the strongest and the best security mechanisms. This intrigued me and I started looking into this, which eventually led to the work that got me this award.

What are you currently working on?
Currently, I am working in Alcatel-Lucent in Bangalore.

Given a choice, would you work independently with funding or as part of a research institution?

It would depend upon the nature of my innovation and the market segment that the innovation addresses. If an idea requires a well-entrenched sales and support infrastructure, I’d work with an institution. In this case, I can focus on the engineering aspect and leave business-related issues on people who have more experience than me. I have seen a lot of innovative ideas fail as they didn’t have the right team that could complement the technical side.

Is innovation an end in itself or the means to become an entrepreneur?
I believe there are two ways to become an entrepreneur. One is to innovate and turn it into a company. Second is to work on an idea that may not necessarily come from you (and in most cases it doesn’t). So you hook up with plenty of people who have good ideas and something probably will be born. If you have the drive to be an entrepreneur, you probably will become one. You don’t have to spend endless cycles thinking of some innovation. You just have to hook up with the right people.

Does India value and reward its innovators?

I think India rewards its innovators which is why you see so many Indian entrepreneurs out there.

Has your innovation made material difference to your standard of living?
No. The only difference it has made is that more people are now aware of my work.

Who are your biggest influences?
I have been greatly influenced by all the people working in IETF writing protocols that make up the internet architecture. These are the people who invented TCP, IP, DNS, HTTP, etc. - all the essential ingredients required to make the internet tick. I would keep reading these standards, the internet drafts that these people had written in 2000 when I had just started my career. I think it because of IETF that I decided that I definitely wanted to do something in this area.

What has been your biggest mistake?

My biggest mistake was to assume that all these people who have contributed towards internet’s evolution were cerebrally more gifted than us and that it would take me a lot of time before I could make any significant contribution in this field. However, after having published several IETF standards, I can say with confidence that most of these people are no different from us and it just needs a lot of patience, perseverance and good understanding of the technology and customers requirements to contribute to the evolution of the internet architecture.

If you could go back and change one thing about your life as an innovator, what would it be?

I can’t think of anything right now.

Did you have a childhood dream?

I was good at computer programming and would spend a lot of time in my computer lab. To encourage this, my parents brought me an IBM PC-AT with a 40Mb HDD in 1993. It was an extremely expensive machine then and I would sit in front of the PC the entire day writing programs/applications in Basic and Turbo Pascal. I would read PCQuest and would keenly follow the latest trends in the technology and how people were collaborating on the internet. Later at Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University, where I did my engineering from, I did a project on TCP/IP congestion control and would spend a lot of time in our computer centre. I believe I always had a dream of doing something in the networking industry.

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