MobiHoc 2006


Keynote Speech

Tuesday 23 May, 8.45 - 9.45

Security and Cooperation in Wireless Ad Hoc Networks: Revisiting Niccolo' Machiavelli

by Jean-Pierre Hubaux (EPFL)


Niccolo' Machiavelli was born in Florence in 1469 and died, again in Florence, in 1527. He is considered to be one of the great early modern analyzers of (political) power. In one of his most well-known writings, the Prince (published in 1532), he warns against the danger induced by "introducing a new order of things".
This is a powerful message for our community. Indeed, according to most technology pundits, progress in wireless ad hoc and sensor networks will lead us into a world of ubiquitous computing, in which myriads of tiny, untethered sensors and actuators will communicate with each other. Information technology will thus deliver its most encompassing and pervasive accomplishment to mankind, promptly taking care of the needs and wishes of everyone.
Or maybe not. The described evolution is driven primarily by market forces; it vastly ignores the user intentions. Yet the recent history of the Internet has shown that these intentions can have devastating effects: for example, spam, viruses, "phishing" and denial of service attacks have unfortunately become commonplace; the misbehavior of a relatively small number of users is leading to a substantial inconvenience to the whole community. Similar or even worse misdeeds are and will be perpetrated in wireless ad hoc networks.
Anyone would agree that forecasting the attacks against a network before its deployment is a very difficult task, and that the countermeasures are not only technical, as the human dimension needs to be taken into account. Yet the current practice consisting in patching the problem a posteriori, once it has been detected, is of course not acceptable; after all, we should be able by now to draw the lessons from many years of network security experience. An additional problem is that the speed to the market is in contradiction with the design of a well-thought (and possibly standardized) secure architecture.
The solution to this recurrent problem probably resides in the evolution of the designers' attitude, and therefore in appropriate education on this issue.
In this talk, we will review the fundamental questions related to this problem in the specific case of ad hoc and sensor networks:

  • How are users and devices identified?
  • How can a security association be established between two wireless peers?
  • How can packets be securely and cooperatively routed in a multi-hop network?
  • How can the fair share of bandwidth between nodes located in the same radio domain be guaranteed?
  • How can fair competition between wireless operators be enforced, if they have to share a given chunk of the spectrum?
  • And, above all, how is privacy protected?

We will illustrate these questions by means of concrete examples such as mesh, vehicular, and sensor networks. Whenever necessary, we will introduce the security and game theoretic concepts we will use.


Jean-Pierre Hubaux joined the faculty of EPFL in 1990; he was promoted to full professor in 1996. His research activity is focused on mobile networking and computing, with a special interest in wireless ad hoc and sensor networks. He has been strongly involved in the definition and launching phases of a new National Competence Center in Research named "Mobile Information and Communication Systems" (NCCR/MICS), since its genesis in 1999; this center is often nicknamed "the Terminodes project". In this framework, he has notably defined, in close collaboration with his students, novel schemes for the security and cooperation in fully self-organized mobile ad hoc networks; in particular, he has devised new techniques for key management, key establishment, and secure positioning in such networks. He has also made several contributions in the areas of power management in sensor networks and of group communication in ad hoc networks. He is an Associate Editor of IEEE Transactions on Mobile Computing and Foundations and Trends in Networking. He served as the general chair for the Third ACM Symposium on Mobile Ad Hoc Networking and Computing (MobiHoc 2002), held on the EPFL campus. He has been serving on the program committees of numerous conferences and workshops, including Infocom, Mobicom, MobiHoc, SenSys, WiSe, and VANET. He has held visiting positions at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center and at the University of California at Berkeley. He was born in Belgium, but spent most of his childhood and youth in Northern Italy. After completing his studies in electrical engineering at Politecnico di Milano, he worked 10 years in France with Alcatel, where he was involved in R&D activities, primarily in the area of switching systems architecture and software.
More details can be found at


Last modified 18-04-2006