Joel Sommers, assistant professor of computer science, discusses his research at Colgate in this question and answer interview.

Q. Describe your research.

A. I’m interested in measuring different aspects of the Internet and using what you can learn from those measurements to improve it. The Internet has grown in such decentralized ways that no one has a global view of what it looks like. I’m interested in what’s going on out there, and how can we improve it in terms of security or performance.


Q. How can your research help us?

A. One of the things I’m working on now is to create a new network simulator that basically can give a high-level view of traffic patterns on a relatively large simulated network. There’s a lot of “attack traffic” out there — a lot of people trying to create either worms or viruses. But, there are no really good simulation tools to re-create both benign or normal-looking flows as well as anomalous-looking flows. One goal with this work is to use simulation capabilities to better test algorithms for quickly identifying attack traffic. A device employing one of these algorithms could alert a human to take action, or possibly take action itself.

Q. What research projects have your students helped with?

A. One is an effort within the networking research community to build a nationwide test bed for experimentation with new networking ideas — it’s called GENI (Global Environment for Network Innovations). No one’s really sure if this can be pulled off, because nothing of this kind has been built before. I have a grant with a couple of other principal investigators at other institutions to build a system to measure certain aspects of this test bed, so that when a researcher wants to run an experiment, they will use our system to take measurements of their experiment. The last two summers, we’ve had Colgate students working on this.

Q. How secure is the Internet?

A. The side of me that does banking online and buys things online tends to not worry about that too much. The side of me that knows what websites might be doing once they get your data says that none of us should be doing any of this. You’re trusting a company to handle your data in a sensitive manner, and as more companies have become dependent on the Internet and on computational infrastructure, it’s been harder for them to keep track of what their systems are doing, and whether they have appropriately secure mechanisms for keeping data private. So, anywhere you look, I’m sure you could find loopholes. But to me, that’s not a good enough reason to not do stuff online.

Q. What do you do with your free time?

A. I’m an avid runner. I ran the Boston Marathon last spring for my second time. I was signed up to run the New York Marathon last fall, but I deferred that, so I have an automatic trip to New York next year. I really like being out there and essentially switching my brain off and just enjoying the countryside. I have the goal of running 10 marathons before I turn 40. I’ve done 7, and I’m 38, so I’ve got some work to do.