Home > Articles > Security > General Security and Privacy

Perception of Security Risk: Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

One moment you're fine, and the next you tense, your breath comes in gasps, and your heart pounds. Fear is a common emotion, an unpleasant feeling of anticipation or perceived danger. If fear has nothing to do with your security program, why do so many security product vendors use it as part of the sales pitch? As Randy Nash explains, because it works.
Like this article? We recommend

The expression "fear, uncertainty, and doubt" (FUD, for short) has been around for a long time. Gene Amdahl used this phrase to define the sales technique used to convince buyers to purchase "safe IBM equipment" instead of going to one of IBM's lesser-known competitors. Microsoft also has been accused of using this tactic over the years, but the most current high-profile reference to FUD is probably in the lawsuit of SCO v. IBM.

What does FUD have to do with security? Dictionary.com defines the term security in several ways, but we'll focus on these two descriptions:

  • Freedom from danger, risk, etc.; safety.
  • Freedom from care, anxiety, or doubt; well-founded confidence.

The first form of security is what an information security program is meant to address. Information systems can be defined as being "unsecured," so we attempt to "secure" them; that is, protect them from danger.

The second form of security is an emotional state. We may feel "insecure," so we desire a sense of security—that sort of warm, fuzzy feeling we get when we know that everything is going to be alright.

Both of these forms of security have an impact on the decisions we make as part of our information security programs, and they both actually have their place. One has real value: We actually can make our systems more secure. The other has a perceived value—when we tell the boss that the systems are secure, he can feel better about it.

The Influence of Fear

Strong emotions affect our decision-making processes. Fear can occur in varying degrees: worry, terror, fright, paranoia, horror, etc. But fear is generally caused by the known, not the unknown. Adults fear what children don't. Imagine a child who has never heard of ghosts suddenly encountering one. If he doesn't know that he should fear it, will he run away? With no experience on which to base a fearful response, he probably won't flee. This is the fearlessness of ignorance.

Fear vs. Risk

As security professionals, we know what happens when our information systems are compromised. Systems crash and fail, data is lost or stolen, the news is made public, and the organization faces a loss of reputation and revenue—and possibly even lawsuits. Much work will need to be done to recover, and many people may lose their jobs over the incident. This knowledge is sufficient to cause fear among security professionals as well as upper-level management. Unfortunately, this fear may lead to decisions based on emotion rather than risk.

There are very common security best-practices for evaluating threats to business. As security professionals, we're in the business of risk management. To understand our level of risk, we need to know the threats to our environment, the impact that a certain threat may have on the environment, and the probability of occurrence. This leads to a simple formula:

Risk = Threat × Probability

The results of our risk assessments, along with calculations like the one above, don't give us simple answers. Risk assessments are subjective, and may vary between professionals based primarily on their individual levels of  knowledge and experience. The risk assessment should include input and review from key players within the organization; the system owner, system engineers, and administrators; and the security team. Their combined knowledge and experience will provide key input in determining the proper weightings for risk, threat, and probability so that a more informed decision can be made. This system tends to decrease any fears that may be associated with various risks, which is critical because fear tends to alter normal judgment and lead to rash decision-making.

Fear Sells

In a perfect world, security product sales would be based on the product's quality, merits, and applicability to a specific need. It's easy to sell a product to someone who needs it. It's difficult or even impossible to sell that same product to someone who either isn't aware of or won't acknowledge a need. There are a couple of ways of helping someone to identify the need for a particular product:

  • Education. Explain the known risks, show how the user and his systems are vulnerable, and then show how the product meets those needs. This method addresses the security of the information systems.
  • Fear. The steps are similar, but with a different emphasis. After explaining the known risks, place strong emphasis on the impacts of a breach. There's plenty of news from which to draw horrific scenarios of embarrassment and destruction. This method addresses the emotional security of the potential buyer.

The ability of fear to alter our judgment makes it a powerful tool for sales:

  • Buy product X to defend yourself from the latest worm, virus, Trojan, malware, etc.
  • Buy product X because you don't really trust product Y.

As opposed to this more positive spin:

  • Buy product X to get more customers (product X enhances your reputation).

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020