Feeds

Security analogies: the key to educating laymen

Explaining tech concepts to the masses

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Comment The following is a written version of a speech I gave at The Open Solutions Summit (AKA LinuxWorld NY) in New York City in February. It's long, but I think you will find it interesting. If you want to get to the website I announced, jump to the last section.

I'm not a sports guy, by any means. I leave that up to my brother, who's the equipment manager for the New York Jets. Even when we were kids, I'd much rather read than play sports, and watching them was sheer torture; my brother was of course the exact opposite. Anything sports-related was total heaven for him.

Never let it be said, however, that I can't find the truth in a sports anecdote. One of my favorite sports stories concerns Frank Layden, of the Utah Jazz, and his alleged comment about a former player. The story goes that Layden was having problems with this player, so he took him aside and said, "Son, what is it with you? Is it ignorance or apathy?" The player thought a moment and then replied, in all sincerity, "Coach, I don't know and I don't care."

I was thinking about that story a few months ago when I was asked during a Q&A why it is that people don't care about security very much. Oh, they might say they care, and profess actual concern, but the actions of most folks speak otherwise. There are many answers to that question, but two of the biggest culprits come down to the problems Layden raised: ignorance and apathy.

Ignorance

Keep in mind that ignorance doesn't mean stupidity. Instead, ignorance means lack of knowledge. If you don't know fire burns and you put your finger into a flame, that's ignorance; if you know fire burns but you put your finger into the flame anyway, well, that's stupidity (which brings to mind one of the best lines from a great movie, The Princess Bride: "Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!").

As I've spoken to groups around the country and taught classes at Washington University in St Louis over the years, I've run into ignorance. Students have said things like "I had no idea there was such a thing as open source" and, "I learned that I need to take care of all the security problems on my computer". I don't condemn the people who said those things; they honestly didn't know that open source software existed, and they really didn't know what they needed to do to keep their computers safer. The important thing, however, is that they knew now, that they had been educated.

Indifference - or apathy - is an issue, but I believe Socrates was correct when he said "The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance." In other words, Socrates believed that if a person knew the right thing to do, he more than likely would do it. To bring that maxim into the modern age, if someone knows that she should use anti-virus software, she's far more likely to do so; in fact, she probably will.

I've written many articles for SecurityFocus that try to educate Joe and Jane Computer user: "A Home User's Security Checklist for Windows". "Pass the Chocolate". "Time to Dump Internet Explorer". "Infected In Twenty Minutes". "The big DRM mistake". "Surprises Inside Microsoft Vista's EULA". I can only do so much, however. As I've pointed out many times, those who have knowledge about computers and security - in other words, you, yes, YOU, the person reading this column - need to educate the ignorant, which is everyone else.

"OK, great idea, Scott," I know some of you are saying right now. "But how?"

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SMASH the Bash bug! Apple and Red Hat scramble for patch batches
'Applying multiple security updates is extremely difficult'
Apple's new iPhone 6 vulnerable to last year's TouchID fingerprint hack
But unsophisticated thieves need not attempt this trick
Hackers thrash Bash Shellshock bug: World races to cover hole
Update your gear now to avoid early attacks hitting the web
Oracle SHELLSHOCKER - data titan lists unpatchables
Database kingpin lists 32 products that can't be patched (yet) as GNU fixes second vuln
Who.is does the Harlem Shake
Blame it on LOLing XSS terroristas
Researchers tell black hats: 'YOU'RE SOOO PREDICTABLE'
Want to register that domain? We're way ahead of you.
Stunned by Shellshock Bash bug? Patch all you can – or be punished
UK data watchdog rolls up its sleeves, polishes truncheon
Ello? ello? ello?: Facebook challenger in DDoS KNOCKOUT
Gets back up again after half an hour though
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
Intelligent flash storage arrays
Tegile Intelligent Storage Arrays with IntelliFlash helps IT boost storage utilization and effciency while delivering unmatched storage savings and performance.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.