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Black Hat Keynoter: Computer Security Is Impossible

Contrarian professor says companies put too much stock in computer systems - and security

LAS VEGAS – Black Hat USA 2008 – The inaugural keynote address at this year's Black Hat conference basically stated that any notion of computer security -- even computer reliability -- is completely false.

In his presentation to about 4,500 attendees here, Ian Angell, a professor of IT at the London School of Economics, threw the audience for a loop by rejecting any illusion that computers could be made secure and predictable.

"Computer behavior itself might be predictable, but the moment that humans and computers begin to interact, you introduce a level of complexity and ambiguity that no computer can manage," Angell said. "The computer is designed to behave in an average environment, but there are always singular situations that complicate those environments."

Computer users often become too dependent on their machines to make decisions for them, Angell said. "computer screens distract the user from his work, causing confusion and errors in judgment."

Similarly, the notion that computers can be made secure is a fallacy, since there are many assumptions made in the manufacturing and programming of a computer that can be proven faulty and exploited.

"The idea of complete security is a joke, and the cynics in computer security will be laughing all the way to the bank," Angell said.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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