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Java security evolution and concepts: Read the whole series!
This article, the first in a series, will cover the general concepts of computer security and cryptography. Although mobile code is not a revolutionary concept, Java and the Internet present some unique challenges to computer security. The evolution of Java architecture and its impact on security, the different security APIs and tools, and applet security will be covered in the subsequent articles.
This security series does not intend to provide a comprehensive guide to computer security. Computer security is a multifaceted issue touching several disciplines, departments, and cultures. Investments in technologies should be followed up with investments in personnel training, strict policy enforcement, and periodic review of the overall security policy.
Note: See the "Sidebar 1: Crypto Algorithm for the Twenty-first Century" for more on algorithm development and the "Sidebar 2: Does the Length of a Key Matter?" for a discussion on the importance of key length in security.
To understand what computer security means in general, what security means in everyday life is worth considering. Some of the general rules for security in day-to-day life also apply to computer security, as we'll see.
Is there such a thing as absolute computer security? In a word, no. The term secure systems is a misnomer since it implies that systems are either secure or not. Security, in truth, is a trade-off. Given unlimited resources, any form of security can be broken. While more and more resources are becoming available to the attacker, in the real world those resources remain finite. With that in mind, we should design systems in such a way that the cost of breaking them would far outweigh the rewards.
What is end-to-end security? In a multitier system, each tier should have its own security and work in tandem with the other tiers. Designing security where different systems and middleware come together is quite a challenge. Simply put, system security is only as strong as the weakest link and, unless you consider security from an end-to-end viewpoint, it is subject to being broken.
Will a complex security design work? It might seem that the best way to stop an unauthorized user might be to design a very complex security scheme, but that's not true. Not only will the cost of designing a complex security system be prohibitive, it might be so complex that legitimate users will try to find a way around it. Simple systems, on the other hand, are easier understood and better analyzed.