Monday, November 16, 2009

Security And Choices

Bruce Schneier:
Security is never black and white. If someone asks, "for best security, should I do A or B?" the answer almost invariably is both. But security is always a trade-off. Often it's impossible to do both A and B -- there's no time to do both, it's too expensive to do both, or whatever -- and you have to choose. In that case, you look at A and B and you make you best choice. But it's almost always more secure to do both.

He's writing about whether antivirus application are dead, but this point is true about everything from computer security to home security to international security. Is it better to run a firewall or antivirus? It's better to run both. Is it better to install an alarm in your home or buy a safe? It's better to do both. Is it better to buy a new aircraft carrier or a five stealth bombers? It's better to do both.

In the counter-terrorism field there's a debate whether it's better to invest more in capabilities of first responders or the military. Democrats largely like the first responder solution because EMTs, firefighters, and police aren't mean and nasty and they can benefit the community even in the absence of an attack. Plus, they're union members. Republicans have largely take the increased military capabilities stance because it's better to fight them over there than here. Better to stop the attacks than responding to one already completed. Not surprisingly, because if there is one thing Democrats and the recent Republicans can agree on is spending money, the government's response has been to do both.

But we don't live in a world of limitless resources. We often have to make a choice between cost and security. Trying to get the most bang for our buck and accepting that we can't fully secure anything, especially when highly motivated nutjobs have it in their sites.

Now, this probably all seems very obvious, but security debates often happen in a vacuum. For example, will the missile defense system make us more safe? Yes or no. Well, maybe it's not simply a question of whether it makes us safer. Maybe it's a question of whether the money allocated toward it could be used in a different way that makes us safer still.

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