Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


08:49 PM
Connect Directly

Black Hat: Security Offers Illusion Of Control

Security evangelist Ian Angell offers up his take on network security and suggests that "only neurotics think they can use technology to control the real world."

Computer security doesn't exist, but people will buy it anyway.

That was more or less the message delivered by Ian Angell, professor of information systems at the London School of Economics, at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday morning.

"Why do we use technology? Angell asked. "Technology imposes structure on our actions, which gives us a tenuous handle on uncertainty."

The thing is, as Angell sees it, that structure is unreliable and offers only the illusion of control.

"Technology is intrinsically statistical, and that means that it cannot deal with the singularities that emerge spontaneously when it merges with human systems," Angell explained.

Angell, you see, is a pessimist. "Whenever I smell flowers, I think funeral," he said. And that colors his view of technology as a means of security.

"Computers cannot cope with ambiguity and complexity," he opined. Perhaps rightly so, given the litany of snafus and unexpected consequences that emerged in his anecdotes. Does that make him a realist?

Consider the Facebook user jailed for several days after the social network's automated system sent a friend request to his former spouse in violation of a restraining order.

Consider the insurance agency that insisted that on adding a guard dog as a condition to insure a valuable stuffed animal collection, only to find out too late that the mandated Doberman, trained using stuffed animals, thought that it was supposed to shred rather than guard. Consider the case of Brandon Mayfield, linked to the 2004 Madrid train bombings as a result of a fingerprint technology glitch, a mistake that cost the FBI $2 million.

In Angell's world, technology goes wrong. And somehow that's the world we're living in, a world where, as Angell put it, there are no solutions, only contingencies.

"Only neurotics think they can use technology to control the real world," said Angell. "As for us cynics in the computer security business, we'll be laughing all the way to the bank."

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
The Cold Truth about Cyber Insurance
Chris Kennedy, CISO & VP Customer Success, AttackIQ,  11/7/2019
6 Small-Business Password Managers
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  11/8/2019
Black Hat Q&A: Hacking a '90s Sports Car
Black Hat Staff, ,  11/7/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
7 Threats & Disruptive Forces Changing the Face of Cybersecurity
This Dark Reading Tech Digest gives an in-depth look at the biggest emerging threats and disruptive forces that are changing the face of cybersecurity today.
Flash Poll
Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprise
Assessing Cybersecurity Risk in Today's Enterprise
Security leaders are struggling to understand their organizations risk exposure. While many are confident in their security strategies and processes, theyre also more concerned than ever about getting breached. Download this report today and get insights on how today's enterprises assess and perceive the risks they face in 2019!
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-11
maidag in GNU Mailutils before 3.8 is installed setuid and allows local privilege escalation in the url mode.
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-11
ImageMagick before 7.0.9-0 allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service because XML_PARSE_HUGE is not properly restricted in coders/svg.c, related to SVG and libxml2.
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-11
A Denial Of Service vulnerability exists in the safe-svg (aka Safe SVG) plugin through 1.9.4 for WordPress, related to unlimited recursion for a '<use ... xlink:href="#identifier">' substring.
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-11
A Denial Of Service vulnerability exists in the safe-svg (aka Safe SVG) plugin through 1.9.4 for WordPress, related to potentially unwanted elements or attributes.
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-11
A Denial Of Service vulnerability exists in the SVG Sanitizer module through 8.x-1.0-alpha1 for Drupal because access to external resources with an SVG use element is mishandled.