Earlier today I ran across this post on Reddit
Security but not Privacy (Am I doing this right?)
The poster basically said “I care about security but not privacy”.
It got me thinking about security and privacy. There’s not really a difference between the two. They are two faces of the same coin but why isn’t always obvious in today’s information universe. If a site like Facebook or Google knows everything about you it doesn’t mean you don’t care about privacy, it means you’re putting your trust in those sites. The same sort of trust that makes passwords private.
The first thing we need to grasp is what I’m going to call a trust boundary. I trust you understand trust already (har har har). But a trust boundary is less obvious sometimes. A security (or privacy) incident happens when there is a breach of the trust boundary. Let’s just dive into some examples to better understand this.
A web site is defaced
In this example the expectation is the website owner is the only person or group that can update the website content. The attacker crossed a trust boundary that allowed them to make unwanted changes to the website.
Your credit card is used fraudulently
It’s expected that only you will be using your credit card. If someone gets your number somehow and starts to make purchases with your card, how they got the card crosses a trust boundary. You could easily put this example in the “privacy” bucket if you wanted to keep them separate, it’s likely your card was stolen due to lax security at one of the businesses you visited.
Your wallet is stolen
This one is tricky. The trust boundary is probably your pocket or purse. Maybe you dropped it or forgot it on a counter. Whatever happened the trust boundary is broken when you lose control of your wallet. An event like this can trickle down though. It could result in identity theft, your credit card could be used. Maybe it’s just about the cash. The scary thing is you don’t really know because you lost a lot of information. Some things we’d call privacy problems, some we’d call security problems.
I use a confusing last example on purpose to help prove my point. The issue is all about who do you trust with what. You can trust Facebook and give them tons of information, many of us do. You can trust Google for the same basic reasons. That doesn’t mean you don’t care about privacy, it just means you have put them inside a certain trust boundary. There are limits to that trust though.
What if Facebook decided to use your personal information to access your bank records? That would be a pretty substantial trust boundary abuse. What if your phone company decided to use the information they have to log into your Facebook account?
A good password isn’t all that different from your credit card number. It’s a bit of private information that you share with one or more other organizations. You are expecting them not to cross a trust boundary with the information you gave them.
The real challenge is to understand what trust boundaries you’re comfortable with. What do you share with who? Nobody is an island, we must exist in an ecosystem of trust. We all have different boundaries of what we will share. That’s quite all right. If you understand your trust boundary making good security/privacy decisions becomes a lot easier.
They say information is the new oil. If that’s true then trust must be the currency.