University News

Computer science professor advises Vietnamese government

Cybersecurity expert John Savage delivered lectures, met with Vietnamese president, business leaders

Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Cybersecurity expert and Professor of Computer Science John Savage recently traveled to Vietnam where he gave a series of lectures and conversed with business and political leaders from Oct. 20 to Oct. 28. His trip culminated in a one-on-one meeting with the President of Vietnam, Tran Dai Quang.

Starting in 1967 as a faculty member in the division of engineering, Savage is now in his 50th year as a member of Brown’s faculty. He co-founded the Department of Computer Science in 1979 and served as the second chair of the department for six years, from 1985 to 1991.

Last year, Savage petitioned the University to grant him a half-time position for three years, during which he would teach one course per year in order to pursue cybersecurity in other projects. This agreement began in the 2015-2016 academic year, and Savage will teach his only course, CSCI 1800: “Cyber Security in International Relations,” for the seventh time in the spring.

The course “explains the kinds of assaults or attacks that can be launched against computers and the Internet, puts the whole issue into a governance context and lists the various steps that governments and individuals have taken to make the Internet a more secure space,” he said.

Cybersecurity is Savage’s latest pursuit in the field of computer science. He began studying electrical engineering as an undergraduate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, moved into theoretical computer science and shifted to nanotechnology after receiving a series of grants from the National Science Foundation. Savage’s involvement in the Jefferson Science Fellowship Program — a program offered by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine — allowed him to spend a year as an advisor at the U.S. Department of State from August 2009 to August 2010. As an advisor at the State Department, he turned to cybersecurity and shifted focus from highly technical to cyber policy.

During that year, Savage “served as an analyst in the Cyber Affairs Office and … sat on five cyber security-related government committees,” according to the Jefferson Science Fellowship website.

Since then, Savage has continued to pursue cyber policy and has traveled all over the globe to attend various conferences. His latest trip was to Vietnam as a representative of the Boston Global Forum, a think tank, to discuss the importance of cybersecurity.

According to Savage, his visit to Vietnam was partially prompted by a cybersecurity attack in Vietnam where hackers took over two airport public address and monitor systems and the website of a Vietnamese airline. The incident “highlighted immediately that this was an important issue,” Savage said.

During his trip, Savage gave a lecture at Dalat University entitled “Global Citizenship Education in Cyber Civil Defense” and a cybersecurity speech in the city of Saigon to more than 100 members of the Hoa Sen Group, a Vietnamese corporation. He also met with the governor of Vietnam’s Khanh Hoa Province.

Savage ended the trip with a private meeting with Quang to discuss Vietnam’s status in cybersecurity. Savage said that Quang was concerned with Vietnam’s position in cybersecurity, but Savage reassured him that the world of global academic cybersecurity was still relatively new.

“We in the academic computer science world in the United States had not taken cybersecurity seriously until maybe seven or eight years ago,” Savage said.

Earlier this year, Savage was recruited by the Boston Global Forum to advise on the Ise Shima Norms, a set of cybersecurity standards that the group presented to the Japanese government.

Savage said the Boston Global Forum will continue to advise institutions, companies and possibly the Vietnamese government on issues related to cybersecurity.

“So if you ask me how I will spend my retirement years, I think I will continue to do this kind of stuff,” Savage said.