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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

SUMMARY OF PROGRAM THREATS AND CONTROLS

This chapter has covered development issues in computer security: the kinds and effects of security flaws, both unintentional and in malicious code, and the techniques that can help to control threats. Malicious code receives a great deal of attention in the media; the colorful terminology certainly draws people to stories about it, and the large numbers of affected systems ensure that major malicious code attacks get very wide visibility. But it is important for us to realize that the seriousness of the threat and the degree of vulnerability should also cause people to pay attention. The total amount of damage already done is not measurable, but it is certainly large. Many successful attacks go undetected—for now, at least. With the explosive growth in connectivity to massive public networks such as the Internet, the exposure to threats is increasing dramatically. Yet the public continues to increase its reliance on computers and networks, ignoring the obvious danger.

In this chapter, we considered two general classes of security flaws: those that compromise or change data and those that affect computer service. There are essentially three controls on such activities: development controls, operating system controls, and administrative controls. Development controls limit software development activities, making it harder for a developer to create malicious programs. These same controls are effective against inadvertent mistakes made by developers. The operating system provides some degree of control by limiting access to computing system objects. Finally, administrative controls limit the kinds of actions people can take.

These controls are important for more than simply the actions they prohibit. They have significant positive effects that contribute to the overall quality of a system, from the points of view of developer, maintainer, and user. Program controls help produce better software. Operating systems limit access as a way of promoting the safe sharing of information among programs. And administrative controls and standards improve system usability, reusability, and maintainability. For all of them, the security features are a secondary but important aspect of the controls' goals.

Program controls are part of the more general problem of limiting the effect of one user on another. In the next chapter, we consider the role of the operating system in regulating user interaction.

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