Security Isn't a Technological Problem

Security, of technological resources, isn't a technological problem. The security of technological resources and information is a problem with people.

There.

That's not a very ground breaking conclusion, but I think that the effects of what this might mean for people doing security [1] may be more startling.

Beyond a basic standard of "writing and using quality software" and following sane administration practices, the way to resolve security issues is to fix the way people use and understand the implications of their use.

There are tools that help control user behavior to greater or lesser degrees. Things like permissions control, management, auditing, and encryption, but they're just tools: they don't solve the human problems and the policy/practice issues that are the core of best security practice. Teaching people how their technology works, what's possible and what's not possible, and finally how to control their own data and resources is the key to increasing and providing security services to everyone.

I think of this as the "free software solution," because it draws on the strengths and methods of free software to shape and enhance people's user experience and to improve the possible security of the public network as a whole. One of the things that has always drawn me to free software, and one of its least understood properties, deals with the power of source code to create an environment that facilitates education and inquiry. People who regularly use free software, I'd bet, have a better understanding of how technology works than people who don't, and it's not because free software users have to deal with less polished software (not terribly true), but has something to do with a different relationship between creators and users of software. I think it would be interesting to take this model and apply it to the "security problem."

With luck, teaching more people to think about security processes will mean that users will generally understand:

  • how encryption works, and be more amenable to managing their own cryptography identities and infrastructure. (PGP and SSH)
  • how networking works on a basic level to be able to configure, set, and review network security. (LAN Administration, NetFilter)
  • how passwords are stored and used, and what makes strong passwords that are easy to remember and difficult to break.
  • how to control and consolidate identity systems to minimize social engineering vulnerabilities. (OpenID, OAuth, etc.)

There's a lot of pretty basic knowledge that I think most people don't have. At the same time, I think it's safe to say that most of the difficult engineering questions have been solved regarding security, there's a bunch of tooling and infrastructure on the part of various services that would make better security practices easier to maintain (i.e. better PGP support in mail clients). In the mean time....

Stay smart.

[1]Security, being a process, rather than a product. Cite.
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