Seven Steps To Digital Security

Here are some basic tips to consider when thinking about your own digital security.

Knowledge is Power

Good security decisions can't be made without good information. Your security tradeoffs are only as good as the information you have about the value of your assets, the severity of the threats from different adversaries to those assets, and the risk of those attacks actually happening. This guide should help you gain the knowledge you need to identify the threats to your computer and communications security, and judge the risk against possible security measures. And some of this knowledge you already have: knowledge of your own situation, who might want to target you, and what resources they have. You already have more power than you think!

The Weakest Link

Think about assets as components of the system in which they are used. The security of the asset depends on the strength of all the components in the system. The old adage that "a chain is only as strong as its weakest link" applies to security too: The system as a whole is only as strong as the weakest component. For example, the best door lock is of no use if you have cheap window latches. Encrypting your email so it won't get intercepted in transit won't protect the confidentiality of that email if you store an unencrypted copy on your laptop and your laptop is stolen. That doesn't mean you have to do everything simultaneously, but it does mean that you should spend time thinking about every part of your information and computer use.

Simpler is Safer and Easier

It is generally most cost-effective and most important to protect the weakest component of the system in which an asset is used. Since the weak components are much easier to identify and understand in simple systems, you should strive to reduce the number and complexity of components in your information systems. A small number of components will also serve to reduce the number of interactions between components, which is another source of complexity, cost, and risk. That also means that the safest solution may be the least technical solution. Computers may be great for many things, but sometimes the security issues of a simple pen and notepaper can be easier to understand, and therefore easier to manage.

More Expensive Doesn't Mean More Secure

Don't assume that the most expensive security solution is the best; especially if it takes away resources needed elsewhere. Low-cost measures like shredding trash before leaving it on the curb can give you lots of bang for your security buck.

It's Okay To Trust Someone (But Always Know Who You're Trusting)

Computer security advice can end up sounding like you should trust absolutely no one but yourself. In the real world, you almost certainly trust plenty of people with at least some of your information, from your close family or companion to your doctor or lawyer.  What's tricky in the digital space is understanding who you are trusting, and with what. You might deposit a list of passwords with your lawyers: but you should think about what power that might give them—or how easily they might be maliciously attacked. You might write documents in a cloud service like Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive that are only for you: but you're also letting Dropbox and Microsoft access them, too. Online or offline, the fewer people you share a secret with, the better chance you have of keeping it secret.

There is No Perfect Security—There’s Always a Trade-Off

Set security policies that are reasonable for your lifestyle, for the risks you face, and for the implementation steps you and your colleagues will take. A perfect security policy on paper won't work if it's too difficult to follow day-to-day.

What's Secure Today May Not Be Secure Tomorrow

It is also crucially important to continually re-evaluate your security practices. Just because they were secure last year or last week doesn't mean they're still secure! Keep checking sites like SSD, because we will update our advice to reflect changes in our understanding and the realities of digital security. Security is never a one-off act: it's a process.

Last updated: 
2015-05-21
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