Edward Felten

From Academic Kids

Edward William Felten (born March 25, 1963) is a professor of computer science at Princeton University.

Felten has done a variety of computer security research, including groundbreaking work on proof-carrying authentication but he is perhaps best known for his paper on the SDMI challenge.



Felten attended the California Institute of Technology and graduated with a degree in Physics in 1985. He worked as a staff programmer at Caltech from 1986 to 1989 on a parallel supercomputer project at Caltech. He then enrolled as a graduate student in Computer Science at the University of Washington. He was awarded an MS degree in 1991 and a PhD in 1993. His PhD thesis was on developing an automated protocol for communication between parallel processors.

In 1993, he joined the faculty of Princeton University in the Department of Computer Science. He has served as a consultant to law firms, corporations, private foundations, and government agencies. His research involves computer security, and technology policy.

He lives in Princeton, New Jersey with his wife, Laura, and daughter, Claire.

The SDMI challenge

As part of a contest in 2000, SDMI (Secure Digital Music Initiative) invited researchers and others to try and break the digital audio watermark technologies that they had devised. In a series of individual challenges, the participants were given a sample audio piece, with one of their watermarks embedded. If the participants sent back the sample with the watermark removed (and with less than an acceptable amount of signal loss, though this condition was not stated by SDMI), they would win that particular challenge.

Felten was an initial participant of the contest. He chose to opt out of confidentiality agreements that would make his team eligible for the cash prize. Despite being given very little or no information about the watermarking technologies other than the audio samples, and having only three weeks to work with them (conditions which many consider an attempt to steeply stack the deck against the contestants), Felten and his team managed to disable all four of the watermarking technologies in the samples provided for SDMI's contest (at least, according to SDMI's own judging system).


Felten's team developed a scientific paper explaining the methods used by his team in defeating the SDMI watermarks. Planning to present the paper at the Fourth International Information Hiding Workshop of 2001 in Pittsburgh, Felten was threatened with legal action by SDMI, the Recording Industry Association of America, and Verance Corporation, under the terms of the DMCA, on the argument that one of the technologies his team had broken were currently in use in the market. Felten withdrew the presentation from the workshop, reading a brief statement about the threats instead.

In response to the threats, Felten (with help from the Electronic Frontier Foundation) sued the groups first, requesting a declaratory judgement ruling that their publication of the paper would be legal. While the legal case was forming, RIAA and SDMI tentatively withdrew (or denied) their threat to sue over publication of the existing papers, but would not guarantee that they would not sue over future research into the SDMI technology.

Felten presented his paper at the USENIX security conference in 2001. His request for declaratory judgement was denied, however he has not yet been sued by any of the parties. The Justice Department has offered Felten and other researchers assurances that the DMCA does not threaten their work, and stated that the legal threats against them were invalid.

Current activities

Today, Felten is an active voice in the area of technology policy, having started the Freedom to Tinker weblog[1] ( and testifying before Congress on copyright issues.


"Given a choice between dancing pigs and security, users will pick dancing pigs every time." (Gary McGraw and Edward Felten: Securing Java, ch1 pt 7 [2] (

See also

External links


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