What access security really is, and the myth of “totally secure”

A good definition of security will let you do two things –

  • Make more objective decisions about how much to spend on security.
  • Sort out who the people who don’t know what they’re talking about (and the liars) are.

So what is security as it relates to access?

Access security is the process of making access cheap for people who are authorised, and expensive for people who are not authorised.

That’s a simple but objectively useful definition. It’s useful because it can be applied simply to every form of access security – armed guards, door locks, IT security, theft laws – it’s universal. With the definition in place, you can move on to a conversation about how expensive access should be, then think about how you invest. Any investment in security should introduce significantly more cost for someone attempting unauthorised access.

In the light of that definition, it’s also easy to see why “totally secure” is a myth. Any form of access means something is now only secure against a certain amount of expenditure.

Next time you’re talking to someone about security and they’re asking you to make an investment, ask them about how much access expense the investment will add for an unauthorised person. Then you can compare it to the cost of what you’re securing. If you can’t make sense of that, you should find someone who can help you can. Any investment in security that doesn’t make unauthorised access many times more expensive than its cost is just the purchase of a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Author: Karl Melrose

Thinker about how to think about economics, security, risk, technology and incentives. Out to solve every optimising problem, out to make sure my thinking gets better, every day.

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