Computing Applications Letters to the Editor

Try Old Boys Security Network

  1. Introduction
  2. Leapfrog Open Access Toward Open Research
  3. Relational Model Alive and Well, Thank You
  4. Relational Model Outgrown
  5. References
  6. Footnotes
Letters to the Editor

Paul Hyman’s complaint about the lack of adequate reporting of cybercrime statistics was well justified in his news story "Cybercrime: It’s Serious, But Exactly How Serious?" (Mar. 2013). All we have, he acknowledged, are lower-bound data, writing, "This much but how much more is there?" Information security is open-ended, with real but unreported losses, vulnerabilities, and threats.

Trade and professional journals tell us how to achieve security solutions, but such advice is not supported by experience because experience itself must be kept confidential. The confidentiality needed to achieve security of security greatly inhibits valid research and adequate preparation. I have for 40 years advised victim enterprises to carefully evaluate the pros and cons of publicly reporting specifics of their security experience, as revealing them would be a violation of the very concept of security; they could lose more from reporting than from keeping the information confidential. Yet they have a moral, social, and possibly legal obligation to publicly report it. An SEC advisory letter to public corporations (SEC Disclosure Guidance: Topic No. 2, Oct. 13, 2011, http://www.sec.gov/divisions/corp-fin/guidance/cfguidance-topic2.htm) requires publicly reporting cybersecurity risks to shareholders but also advised not to reveal information helpful to potential adversaries. How can they carry out such a contradictory dual mandate?

Security-information-sharing organizations (such as Infraguard, http://www.infraguard.net) in cooperation with the FBI and the inter-industry Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (http://www.isaccouncil.org) are helpful to a point. I suggest also using what I call the "old boys network" of informally sharing the most sensitive security information by developing mutual trust with fellow security practitioners in other enterprises, as has been the practice for a long time in industrial security.

Donn B. Parker, Los Altos, CA

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Leapfrog Open Access Toward Open Research

Open access is a transitional publishing model limited by its historical context, preserving the constraints of print media (such as tying each published piece to its original time and content) while being transitional in its embrace of wide distribution through the Internet. Though ACM’s view of its own approach to open-access publishing has evolved, as reflected in Ronald F. Boisvert’s and Jack W. Davidson’s "Letter from ACM Publications Board Co-Chairs," "Positioning ACM for an Open Access Future" (Feb. 2013), it may well be able to leapfrog open access toward a true model of open research that permits each article to evolve over time.

Elements of such a model would probably include: offering free online public access in a structured format to all research data used to support an article, so the data can be retested and (cautiously) combined with data from other research; publishing research results in source form under an open license (such as Creative Commons’s Attribution-ShareAlike; http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/), letting it evolve through new contributions; and encouraging authors to publish early in order to address reviews from diverse sources that could help refine claims or simply express ideas more clearly.

The second and third elements represent known challenges; the integrity of an article requires its curators prevent or filter out low-quality and irrelevant changes. However, such an open-content model conforms better to how information is really created and exchanged than the current print model or the incremental advance represented by open access.

Andy Oram, Cambridge, MA

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Relational Model Alive and Well, Thank You

Carl Hewitt’s letter to the editor "Relational Model Obsolete" (Jan. 2013) betrayed a shallow and too-common level of understanding of the relational model. Of the five specific claims he made regarding "limitations" of the model, none is valid:

Inexpressiveness. This was simply wrong. Negation and disjunction are easily—in fact, almost trivially—expressible. Type generalization and specialization are easily expressible, too, though, to some extent, this is more an issue for the accompanying type system than for the relational model as such.

Inconsistency non-robustness. This one was both wrong and confused. Suffice it to say that "p AND NOT p" is an inconsistency, but "Alice says p AND Bob says NOT p" is certainly not. Moreover, even if a database really does contain an inconsistency, the relational model would still function (so we are not talking about a problem with the model); rather, the problem is with the database and with the consequent fact one cannot trust the answers given by the system. Further, a query language based on logic that encourages logical contradictions is nonsense.

Information loss. Whether one’s updates "lose information" is entirely up to how one uses the model; it has nothing to do with the relational model. One of us (Date) co-authored a book1 100% devoted to the use of the relational model to manage temporal data and thereby not "lose information." For the record, the relational model requires no "correction," no "extension," and, above all, no perversion, for this desirable aim to be realized.

Lack of provenance. This point has to do not with the model as such but with how it is used. Note "Alice says" and "Bob says" are provenance information. In fact, the relational model is ideally suited to recording such information, and even SQL DBMSs are widely used for this purpose.

Inadequate performance and modularity. Criticizing the relational model for having no concurrency abstraction is like criticizing a cat for not being a dog. (Hewitt said it is SQL that has no concurrency abstraction, but SQL and the relational model are not the same thing; indeed, SQL has little to do with the relational model.) As for "a… type should be an interface that does not name its implementations," and to the extent we even understand this remark, types in the relational model meet this criterion.

We would never publish a critique of (for example) Hewitt’s actor model without understanding it well; why then does he feel he can publish a critique of the relational model, when he demonstrably does not understand it?

C.J. Date, Healdsburg, CA, and D. McGoveran, Deerfield Beach, FL

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Relational Model Outgrown

Unfortunately, Date and McGoveran make no good arguments against the limitations of the relational model, as outlined in my letter (Jan. 2013), partly because we are using incommensurable terminology (such as "negation," "disjunction," "concurrency," and "abstraction"); for details, see articles in Proceedings of Inconsistency Robustness 2011 (http://robust11.org), especially regarding the requirement for inconsistency robustness. My point is not to dismiss relational databases as a failure but to build on their success and overcome their limitations.

Such an effort must meet several requirements:

Compatibility. All capabilities of current relational databases must continue to be implemented; in addition, incrementally integrating inconsistent information from multiple relational databases with incompatible schemas (something awkward in the relational model) must become standard practice; and

Natural language + gestures (as lingua franca for communication with computer systems). Semantics of natural language and coordinated gestures of multiple participants must be expressible. An important consequence is expressions and gestures must be able to mutually refer to each other, something awkward in the relational model; for example, if Alice points her finger at Bob and charges, "I accuse you of harassing me," and Bob retorts, "I deny it!," then the mutual co-reference of language and gesture must be expressible.

To move beyond the relational model, I propose the actor model because it already meets these requirements, in addition to the ones I included in my earlier letter. I further propose ActorScript2 as a more appropriate foundation than SQL for a family of languages for information integration, as it includes the following characteristics:

Security and safety. Applications cannot directly interfere with one another.

Excellent support for concurrency.

  • Not restricted to just the transactional model of concurrency, as in SQL;
  • Messages directly communicated without requiring indirection through channels, mailboxes, pipes, ports, or queues;
  • Integration of functional, imperative, logic, and concurrent programming; and
  • Low-level mechanisms (such as threads, tasks, locks, and cores) not exposed by programs.

Language extension. ActorScript has excellent meta-language capabilities for implementing extensions without interfering with existing programs.

Capabilities for extreme performance.

  • No overhead imposed on implementation of actor systems; for example, message passing has essentially the same overhead as procedure calling and looping; and
  • Concurrency dynamically adapted to available resources and current load.

Relational databases have been an outstanding success and become dominant in the commercial world. However, computing has changed dramatically in the decades since the relational model was developed. Consequently, the relational model and SQL have become obsolete due to the limitations I’ve outlined here, and innovations like the actor model and ActorScript are required to address current and future needs.

Carl Hewitt, Palo Alto, CA

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