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Computers at Risk: Safe Computing in the Information Age
well as attack. Security supports overall trustworthiness, and vice versa.
COMPUTER SYSTEM SECURITY CONCERNS
Security is a concern of organizations with assets that are controlled by computer systems. By accessing or altering data, an attacker can steal tangible assets or lead an organization to take actions it would not otherwise take. By merely examining data, an attacker can gain a competitive advantage, without the owner of the data being any the wiser.
Computer security is also a concern of individuals, including many who neither use nor possess computer systems (Box 1.1). If data can be accessed improperly, or if systems lack adequate safeguards, harm may come not only to the owner of the data, but also to those to whom the data refers. The volume and nature of computerized data-bases mean that most of us run the risk of having our privacy violated in serious ways. This is particularly worrisome, since those in a position to protect our privacy may have little incentive to do so (Turn, 1990).
The threats to U.S. computer systems are international, and sometimes also political. The international nature of military and intelligence threats has always been recognized and addressed by the U.S. government. But a broader international threat to U.S. information resources is emerging with the proliferation of international computer networking—involving systems for researchers, companies, and other organizations and individuals—and a shift from conventional military conflict to economic competition.2 The concentration of information and economic activity in computer systems makes those systems an attractive target to hostile entities. This prospect raises questions about the intersection of economic and national security interests and the design of appropriate security strategies for the public and private sectors. Finally, politically motivated attacks may also target a new class of system that is neither commercial nor military: computerized voting systems.3
Outside of the government, attention to computer and communications security has been episodic and fragmented. It has grown by spurts in response to highly publicized events, such as the politically motivated attacks on computer centers in the 1960s and 1970s and the more recent rash of computer viruses and penetrations of networked computer systems.4 Commercial organizations have typically concentrated on abuses by individuals authorized to use their systems, which typically have a security level that prevents only the most straightforward of attacks.