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Communications of the ACM

Privacy and security

Cyber Defense Triad For Where Security Matters


Cyber Defense Triad for Where Security Matters, illustration

Credit: Alicia Kubista / Andrij Borys Associates

In the early days of computers, security was easily provided by physical isolation of machines dedicated to security domains. Today's systems need high-assurance controlled sharing of resources, code, and data across domains in order to build practical systems. Current approaches to cyber security are more focused on saving money or developing elegant technical solutions than on working and protecting lives and property. They largely lack the scientific or engineering rigor needed for a trustworthy system to defend the security of networked computers in three dimensions at the same time: mandatory access control (MAC) policy, protection against subversion, and verifiability—what I call a defense triad.


The security problem will remain as long as manufacturers remain committed to current system architectures, produced without a firm requirement for security.


Fifty years ago the U.S. military recognized subversiona as the most serious threat to security. Solutions such as cleared developers and technical development processes were neither scalable nor sustainable for advancing computer technology and growing threats. In a 1972 workshop, I proposed "a compact security 'kernel' of the operating system and supporting hardware—such that an antagonist could provide the remainder of the system without compromising the protection provided." I concluded: "We are confident that from the standpoint of technology there is a good chance for secure shared systems in the next few years. However, from a practical standpoint the security problem will remain as long as manufacturers remain committed to current system architectures, produced without a firm requirement for security. As long as there is support for ad hoc fixes and security packages for these inadequate designs, and as long as the illusory results of penetration teams are accepted as a demonstration of computer system security, proper security will not be a reality."8


 

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