Thursday, July 5, 2012

Are You Really Sure You're Secure?

Security is a funny thing.  It is intangible yet, like freedom, something we regularly seek.  It is also *usually* misleading.  People tend to see big fortresses, castles and vaults as "secure" yet time and again every one of these "secure" systems is proven to be fallible.  Despite the fact that we keep coming up with better mouse traps, the mice still seem to somehow get the cheese so to speak.  Indeed the only thing stopping most security breaches is that it takes two things to successfully breach any secure place: Audacity and Ingenuity.  Thankfully if we find one we usually do not find the other, and while an over abundance of one may result in a successful breach it is a rarity. 

But we in America have a serious problem with security.  Namely we think we are secure.  We emplaced any number of methods to ensure that we remain secure, that not only our physical, but our information, and financial systems are secure.  Unfortunately, we have been proven time and again that none of these methods actually work, and a lot of them are just eye candy that makes us feel good but is actually counterproductive.  The Crash of 2008 showed us despite oodles of financial regulations our system can and more importantly will crash, sometimes because of our methodology used to "secure" it, not despite it.  Wikileaks has proven that our Cyber security is a bit of a joke, and that our methods of securing our information may actually make us more vulnerable.  9/11 showed us that our physical security is also at threat. 

An old military axiom states "he who secures everything, secures nothing".  Post 9/11 there were many who wanted the military to ring around the country to prevent any further threats, indeed the fact that we are separated by two oceans from the continents that are usually at war (Europe Asia, Africa) gives many of us the (false) impression that we can simply isolate ourselves and the threats will go away, or as Ron Paul might put it, bring our military home and focus on protecting our country.  Only problem is that if we put every single American, to say nothing of our actual military forces, in a ring around our country we would have a single, very thin line that would be useless for anything more than a skirmish, to say noting of actually supporting such a measure.  there are a little more than 300 Million Americans.  Our borders and shores have more miles then our nation has people.  If I were to face such a ring of people, all it would take is to kill a single person, and I would have a breach point, and there would be no way that America could amass enough people to respond to even a minor breach because they'd be, well everywhere else. 

It is also important to consider that a fortress is a prison and a prison is a fortress.  If we were able to somehow create a truly impenetrable border, we would have one slight problem in that we would essentially trap ourselves;  Now with a country as large as America that might not seem like a bad idea, but again, it would cause severe harm economically, and possibly even tactically, not to mention that there is literally no way yet known to secure our coast lines.  We will have to acknowledge at some point that our boarder security will only be strong enough to deter people who are lacking in either ingenuity, or audacity (which most border crossers lack neither of).  But even when dealing with much more serious threats like terrorists or rouge nations, if they are at our border, it is unlikely that we will be able to respond effectively, and once they are inside our borders it is even more difficult. 

On some level a defensive mindset is one that is doomed to fail.  You can not possibly guard against everything, and indeed the only real effective defenses are targeted defenses.  The Maginot line was supposed to be impenetrable, the Germans hardly slowed down when they reached it, and after they captured it, they simply turned the guns around and tried to use it against the allies, with about the same results.  These general defensive positions do little to nothing, and are often counter productive.  However, targeted defensive positions, or positions that are designed to draw an enemy into your defenses in a specific way are highly effective, provided the enemy does exactly what they're supposed to.  At the Battle of Cold Harbor in 1964 Grant nearly lost his army when he charged Lee's defensive position.  Indeed the battle was so horrific the Union very nearly lost the war right there.  These principles can be applied to all forms of security.

It is also important to consider that the things we really want secure, like Gold or Information, will be centralized and locked down.  Most of us will say that this is good enough.  However "placing all your eggs in one basket" is also a hugely bad idea.  What do you suppose would happen if say all our nuclear power stations were internet accessible.  Well if someone had truly nefarious purposes, they could easily cause say a melt down, at the very least they could shut the system down.  And what of our "smart" power grids that are forthcoming which have received much fanfare?  What would happen if those systems were somehow hacked corrupted or destroyed?  The result would be chaos.  The recent power outage following a bad wind storm on the Eastern Seaboard would be nothing compared to a country wide power outage, that systematically can not be fixed.  Here one must know their infrastructure and prioritize what needs to remain secure, and also it is vital to ensure as much dispersion as possible, so that any one attack will not cripple the whole system.  

We need to understand that our enemies will come to us, and they will attack us.  If it is not Muslim extremists, old Soviets, or some threat we couldn't possible foresee, there will be threats in the future, that is just a part of life, and we need to accept that fact.  Relying on goodwill to prevent catastrophe is a recipe for disaster.  To prevent that we must at all times thing about how we can keep them on the defensive.  Much like a boxer that is getting pummeled from all sides by a series of blows, they can neither respond, nor really do anything but put their arms up and hope that their opponent gets tired.  When speaking of security, it is vital to remain proactive, not reactive.  To seek out the threats and reduce or eliminate them before they can get in a good blow to whatever we are trying to secure. 

Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 are perfect examples of what happens when we fail in this arena.  Vigilance is the price of peace, and if we ever fail in said vigilance it is the people that will suffer, the innocent.  We as a people need to get the idea that we are  secure out of our heads.  We are not.  We will never be.  This is the cost of freedom.  We will worry more, and will realize how much we have to lose but really the Joys freedom gives us far outweigh the realization that security, really all security, is a myth. 

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