RFID Radicals?

1:15 PM -- Judging from the coverage I've given the computer science department at Vrije University, in Amsterdam, you might think they're a bunch of Bolsheviks running around yelling "The sky is falling!" because retail stores are starting to use RFID on the sales floor. Vrije, after all, is the home of the RFID Guardian Project, created under the auspices of Andrew Tanenbaum, who's responsible for the scary notion that viruses can attack and spread via RFID tags and readers. (See Now About That Bunny... and RFID: Readily Fooled Indeed.)

Well, Tanenbaum and his grad students may be alarmists, but they're spotlighting security vulnerabilities in a technology that's going to spread rapidly (and largely invisibly) in the coming years and that many mainstream experts consider a "slow motion train wreck," as Dan Kaminsky, senior researcher at security firm DoxPara, puts it.

Tanenbaum also happens to be one of the world's leading authorities on distributed computing systems, having co-authored Distributed Systems: Principles and Paradigms, which God knows I'm taking along on my next beach vacation. His earlier book, Operating Systems: Design and Implementation, along with his Minix open-source operating system, provided principal inspiration for Linus Torvalds in creating Linux. In his recent work, Tanenbaum has become an advocate of "microkernels" -- compact modules of operating-system code that provide only basic services, with more complex elements called servers handling higher functions such as networking and display. OSes built around microkernels, Tanenbaum says, are far more reliable and resilient than conventional "monolithic" systems -- a belief that has led him into some lively debates with Torvalds.

And in the 2004 presidential election, Tanenbaum indulged his lefty political leanings by building Electoral-vote.com, which came up with highly accurate projections for Electoral-College results based on analysis of opinion polls. Calling himself "the Votemaster," Tanenbaum, a John Kerry supporter, kept his identity as the creator of the site a secret until the day before the election.

I think maybe I'll lay off him for a while.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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