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Computing (FOLDOC) dictionary
security through obscurity
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security Or "security by obscurity". A term applied by
hackers to most operating system vendors' favourite way of
coping with security holes - namely, ignoring them,
documenting neither any known holes nor the underlying
security algorithms, trusting that nobody will find out
about them and that people who do find out about them won't
exploit them. This never works for long and occasionally sets
the world up for debacles like the RTM worm of 1988 (see
Great Worm), but once the brief moments of panic created by
such events subside most vendors are all too willing to turn
over and go back to sleep. After all, actually fixing the
bugs would siphon off the resources needed to implement the
next user-interface frill on marketing's wish list - and
besides, if they started fixing security bugs customers might
begin to *expect* it and imagine that their warranties of
merchantability gave them some sort of rights.
Historical note: There are conflicting stories about the
origin of this term. It has been claimed that it was first
used in the Usenet newsgroup in news:comp.sys.apollo
during a campaign to get HP/Apollo to fix security
problems in its Unix-clone Aegis/DomainOS (they didn't
change a thing). ITS fans, on the other hand, say it was
coined years earlier in opposition to the incredibly paranoid
Multics people down the hall, for whom security was
everything. In the ITS culture it referred to (1) the fact
that by the time a tourist figured out how to make trouble
he'd generally got over the urge to make it, because he felt
part of the community; and (2) (self-mockingly) the poor
coverage of the documentation and obscurity of many commands.
One instance of *deliberate* security through obscurity is
recorded; the command to allow patching the running ITS system
(altmode altmode control-R) echoed as $$^D. If you actually
typed alt alt ^D, that set a flag that would prevent patching
the system even if you later got it right.