Towards a Model of the Costs of Security

Authors:Larochelle, David, Department of Computer ScienceUniversity of Virginia Rosasco, Nicholas, Department of Computer ScienceUniversity of Virginia

We present a simple information security model to determine why, historically, the level of security has not increased despite numerous technical advances. In our model, the software design process involves trade-offs between security and functionality. Developers choose points in the design space corresponding to certain levels of security and functionality. If development resources, such as number of developers, time for completion, etc., are fixed, there is an implicit trade-off between security and functionality. We refer to the set of points that represent the maximum possible security given a certain level of functionality as the protection possibilities frontier (PPF). Technical advances push back the PPF expanding the set of accessible points in the design space potentially allowing both increased security and increased functionality. But historically this has not been sufficient to result in increased security. Instead almost all of the technical advancement is used to increase functionality. We examine how technical advances affect the marginal cost of security in terms of sacrificed functionality and classify technical advances into 3 categories: security neutral, security hostile, and security enhancing. In order for the level of security to increase, security enhancing technical advances must offset security hostile technical advances. We also observe that producing security enhancing technologies is surprisingly difficult. Even advances in information security technologies often result in the ability to take additional risks rather than increased security. Additionally we briefly examine user preferences, which to a large extant drive the actions of developers. We suggest that the lack of security cannot be explained purely by consumer apathy and that limited product availability and network externalities also contribute.
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Source Citation:

Larochelle, David, and Nicholas Rosasco. "Towards a Model of the Costs of Security." University of Virginia Dept. of Computer Science Tech Report (2003).

University of Virginia, Department of Computer Science
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