Saturday, May 21, 2011

Total Security in Cyberspace is Neither Possible nor Desirable

Benjamin Franklin once stated that, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety” (Moncur, 2006, par. 1). To me, this quote has become ever more applicable, and therefore important, in a world increasingly dominated by the threat of homegrown and nation-state sponsored terrorists. The vast realm of cyberspace has provided yet a new arena and a new form of attacker: the cyberterrorist. Yet whether on the ground or in cyberspace, the question still remains as to how we can be protected from such attackers, and where the line between “essential liberty” and “safety” exists. The short answer is: I don’t know. Or perhaps, I am not sure yet. What I am sure of is that total security in cyberspace is neither possible nor desirable.

Consider software; one part of the many aspects of technology required to make the Internet work. A perusal of the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) shows 4639 software vulnerabilities from January to December of 2010, as well as 1674 reported thus far in 2011 (National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2011). These figures indicate that software contains vulnerabilities which could be exploited by malicious users, and as a building block of the Internet, the vulnerabilities would also be present in cyberspace. It is therefore not a great leap of logic to suggest that as total security is not available in software, it is not going to be available in cyberspace.

In regards to the issue of desirability, it seems that total security in cyberspace would require the relinquishment of all control to a governmental entity who would then decide what was appropriate and inappropriate for citizens to access or use; all in the interest of safety, of course. Such passivity speaks directly to a purposeful renunciation of Franklin’s “essential liberty,” and is therefore of no interest to me. I would rather work under security guidelines and suggestions, with the ultimate decision resting upon my shoulders. Let the user beware.

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