Mixing it Up: Sand, Sunshine and Security

Last week we had a work meeting on the island of Cyprus.  On our final day, as I meandered down the beach, I snapped this pic of what passes for security there.

Obviously it’s not a very effective barrier.  So why bother?  Well, it turns out that they are attempting to solve a problem which is quite analogous to policing the internet.

beach security in Cyprus

In order to grasp the analogy, it’s helpful to consider the following question about physical security.

Which of these three problems is the hardest to solve?

a.)    Keeping everyone out  – imagine an area which is nuclear-contaminated or ecologically fragile

b.)    Only let in a trusted few – Area 51 or any other military base

c.)     Let everyone in, except for a distrusted few – example: a shopping mall during a “high alert” situation (where threats have been called in)

The first one is fairly simple: your goal is to make potential trespassers give up and go away.  Erect some barbwire, add cameras, throw in a few landmines and you’re done. 

The second one is manageable – there’s a small group of people who are trusted (relative to the large group who aren’t).  They must have unique identifiers like id cards or matching fingerprints in order to enter.  There are only a few heavily guarded entry points.  Problem solved.

Now what about the last one?  It should be fairly obvious that any place (including a beach or a network) with no walls would be much tougher to defend than a fortress.  Open access and lots of people make it very difficult to locate a few bad guys among hordes of good guys.  This presents a significant security issue.  It might be solved by building fences, but then access is restricted and your merchants lose money.

One pretty good solution is a visible police force, like the one Cyprus has.  As long as there are some cops around to handle the dirty work, local hotels and restaurants feel safe inviting strangers to walk by, hoping they have euros or dollars to spend.  Businesses make a feeble attempt – with their “lite” beach barrier – to dissuade non-members (the boulders are also universally understood to mean “serious shoppers only past this point”).  According to our concierge, this works quite well – merchants are happy and crime is low.

the furry kind of security – when he’s not on siesta

If we look at internet business models and “follow the money”, the same motivation Cypriots have is quite evident: with so many people selling so many things – they even sell views of things! (aka “clicks”) – the sellers would like the internet to be as easy as possible for shoppers to get to.  And with 33% of the world and 78% of North America connected, it’s going well so far.  But in this case, the scenario is much less like Cyprus and much more like Chalmun’s Cantina in Star Wars.  It isn’t anyone’s job to stop fights between drunken aliens from different galaxies.  The crowd just looks the other way.

So don’t let your latest hugfest on your favorite social network lull you into a case of the warm fuzzies about your internet connection.  If Darth Vadar  lives, he’s at least a wealthy cybercriminal.  It’s every man or woman for herself out there.   Don’t forget the basic rules: practice safe surfing, have good internet hygiene (log off when you’re finished, etc.) and be sure you use good anti-malware.




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