Basics of Security: The Dangers of Security

If you security, you have to understand some things about security.

Some people say security is an illusion. It isn't strictly true, but there is a reason they say that.

Security requires abandoning security.

See? That was easy.

No? Well, maybe not.

There are two kinds of security. One is what salesmen and politicians tend to sell when they want you to buy a product you probably don't need or vote for some unnecessary and counterproductive legislation. It is the illusion of security, the idea that something important to you is protected, so you can breathe easily.

That's what people seem to think of most often when they say "security". And it is, as I say, an illusion.

You know that locks can be picked. You have heard that passwords can be cracked. There are various strengths of locks and passwords, but, yes, all are vulnerable somewhere. Ultimately, there is a way through every wall.

On my defining computers blog, I tried to talk about matching your measures to what you are protecting. One principle of security is precisely that. But you have to understand that you are always vulnerable, especially if someone decides that what you are protecting is worth enough to them to go to the effort of getting through the walls you have built.

Perhaps the best way to say this is

Protection is not security. 

Protection may be a good way to make jobs. Or not, depending on how much power you give the guards. There are many things that protection may be, but protection is not security.

The danger of security is that it is soooooooooooooooo tempting to reach for protection. And, having obtained some temporary degree of protection, lean back and start doing things that could only be un-stupid if you could really be secure.

Walls crumble. Locks and chains rust. Passwords are forgotten, so we write them down. And then they are found by the very people we didn't want knowing them.

Things go wrong, or at least, things happen that are unpleasant. There was a crude way to say it, but poignant and expressive, that I saw on bumper stickers (and even once on a billboard, I think). There are still fortunately some few for whom the shock of seeing the expression would conflict with what I'm trying to say, so I won't quote it here.

But unpleasant things happen. Things we think are bad happen. Some of them have to happen. Moving the bowels is not fun, and human waste needs special handling, and "modern plumbing" comes with its own set of new problems. And if we try to avoid moving the bowels, or try to avoid filling them, even worse things happen.

Unpleasant things happen. It's part of life. And everybody dies. No one escapes this world alive. Physically.

Spiritually? We have no scientific proofs of an afterlife. I can tell you that I believe there is an afterlife, but I have no way to make you believe me. I can use charismatic techniques to get you excited about believing in the afterlife, but once we go on about our business, you forget the impressions because they are not your own.

My belief came from circular reasoning about my experiences.

In logic, circular reasoning is only a fallacy if there is no point at which it attaches to an external chain of logic.

In education, circular reasoning, attached to chains of experience, is precisely how we learn things.


  1. We think something might work.
  2. We try it.
  3. It works, or it doesn't.
  4. We draw conclusions, some correct and some not-so-correct.
  5. And we look again at something else that may be similar: repeat.


That is not the fallacy, but some who are pessimistic about the existence of God confuse the cyclic learning process with circular reasoning. There is a reason for that.

From the outside, it is circular reasoning. You cannot experience my experiences. I cannot experience your experiences. You can try to repeat mine, but your mileage will vary. And if I try to repeat yours, but my mileage will vary.

That's part of being individuals.

We are individuals. Nothing will ever change that.

Once you are comfortable with that, you can start finding real security. Once you can understand that you are an individual, you can start figuring out what really matters to you. That allows you to start figuring out how much of one thing you are willing to risk to protect another.

Until you are able and willing to start setting your own, individual priorities, every other version of security is a trap, false; it may be sweet, but ultimately it's poison.

The security that people sell keeps you focused outside. To get real security, you have to focus inside.

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