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Risk Management: The Game Of Security


It's very important to understand that in security, one simply cannot say ``what's the best firewall?'' There are two extremes: absolute security and absolute access. The closest we can get to an absolutely secure machine is one unplugged from the network, power supply, locked in a safe, and thrown at the bottom of the ocean. Unfortunately, it isn't terribly useful in this state. A machine with absolute access is extremely convenient to use: it's simply there, and will do whatever you tell it, without questions, authorization, passwords, or any other mechanism. Unfortunately, this isn't terribly practical, either: the Internet is a bad neighborhood now, and it isn't long before some bonehead will tell the computer to do something like self-destruct, after which, it isn't terribly useful to you.


This is no different from our daily lives. We constantly make decisions about what risks we're willing to accept. When we get in a car and drive to work, there's a certain risk that we're taking. It's possible that something completely out of control will cause us to become part of an accident on the highway. When we get on an airplane, we're accepting the level of risk involved as the price of convenience. However, most people have a mental picture of what an acceptable risk is, and won't go beyond that in most circumstances. If I happen to be upstairs at home, and want to leave for work, I'm not going to jump out the window. Yes, it would be more convenient, but the risk of injury outweighs the advantage of convenience.

Every organization needs to decide for itself where between the two extremes of total security and total access they need to be. A policy needs to articulate this, and then define how that will be enforced with practices and such. Everything that is done in the name of security, then, must enforce that policy uniformly.

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