Secrecy and security

Monday, 3 March 2003, 12:30 PM EST

There's considerable confusion between the concepts of secrecy and security, and it is causing a lot of bad security and some surprising political arguments. Secrecy is not the same as security, and most of the time secrecy contributes to a false feeling of security instead of to real security.

Last month, the SQL Slammer worm ravished the Internet, infecting in some 15 minutes about 13 root servers that direct information traffic, and thus disrupting services as diverse as the 911 network in Seattle and much of Bank of America's 13,000 ATM machines. The worm took advantage of a software vulnerability in a Microsoft database management program, one that allowed a malicious piece of software to take control of the computer.

This vulnerability had been made public six months previously when a respected British computer researcher had published the code on the Web.

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