FIGURE 3.1 A secure but useless computer (left), and an insecure but useful computer (right).
information or programs are good when they are in fact bad. This fact underscores a basic point about most adversarial cyber operations—the key role played by deception. Box 3.2 provides a simple example.
Two other factors compound the inherent vulnerabilities of information technology. First, the costs of an adversarial cyber operation are usually small compared with the costs of defending against it. This asymmetry arises because the victim (the defender) must succeed every time the intruder acts (and may even have to take defensive action long after the intruder’s initial penetration if the intruder has left behind an implant for a future attack). By contrast, the intruder needs to succeed in his efforts only once, and if he pays no penalty for a failed operation, he can continue his efforts until he succeeds or chooses to stop.11
Second, modern information technology systems are complex entities whose proper (secure) operation requires many actors to have behaved correctly and appropriately and to continue to do so in the future. Each of these actors exerts some control over some aspect of a user’s experience or the configuration or functioning of some part of the system, and a problem in any of them can negatively compromise that experience.
As an example, consider the “simple” task of viewing a Web page—
11 This asymmetry applies primarily when the intruder can choose when to act, that is, when the precise timing of the intrusion’s success does not matter. If the intruder must succeed on a particular timetable, the intruder does not have an infinitely large number of tries to succeed, and the asymmetry between intruder and defender may be reduced significantly.