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Communications of the ACM

Inside risks

An Integrated Approach to Safety and Security Based on Systems Theory

control room of a nuclear power plant

Control room of a nuclear power plant.

Credit: Pozitiv Studija

Despite an enormous amount of effort and resources applied to security in recent years, significant progress seems to be lacking. Similarly, changes in engineering are making traditional safety analysis techniques increasingly less effective. Most of these techniques were created over 50 years ago when systems were primarily composed of electromechanical components and were orders of magnitude less complex than today's software-intensive systems. New, more powerful safety analysis techniques, based on systems theory, are being developed and successfully used on a large variety of systems today, including aircraft, spacecraft, nuclear power plants, automobiles, medical devices, and so forth.2 Systems theory can, in the same way, provide a powerful foundation for security. An additional benefit is the potential for creating an integrated approach to both security and safety.


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