Recently, a very amusing website launched to ask a very simple question, “will using the prefix cyber make me look like an idiot?” It predicated the response based on an answer to three questions: (1) Are you a science fiction author, (2) are you about to engage in dirty instant messaging, and (3) are you using the word to engage in scare mongering? You can see the answer to my questions below based on my everyday usage of the word:
The site is obviously established to poke fun at the growing use of the word cyber to describe many subjects and items. There are many in the computer security/information assurance field which agree with that premise and openly disagree with it’s use in any form outside of science fiction or dirty instant messaging.
I come from a background in academia and research. I understand the importance of word choice and usage. However, I am also aware of the need to adopt a new lexicon when an existing one is not enough. I believe this is one of those cases.
I too used to abhor the use of the word cyber in the computer security/information assurance/network security domains. However, as I matured in my understanding of the topic beyond the technical concepts of these fields and into the human factors and psychology of the field I knew these terms did not adequately describe the full scope of the analysis and operations to secure computer systems.
The word cyber is necessary.
It is necessary because this field is much larger than just securing technical systems. It MUST also embrace analysis, psychology, human factors, and aggressive operations (hence the name of the blog – ActiveResponse), amongst others.
The other terms used in this area (e.g. Computer Security, Information Assurance, Network Security, etc.) are all fine and have their place. But they lack one fundamental aspect: the human.
Cyber originated in our lexicon with Norbert Wiener in his seminal 1948 book Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. He took the word cyber from the Greek word kybernetes, Greek for “steersman” or “governor.” It was further adopted by science fiction authors into the cyberpunk and famously, cyberspace (by William Gipson).
Faced with the origin of the word, it has not been co-opted. In fact, I believe it is a better term than others in many instances. Primarily because it makes humans and operators the central focus of the activities we study – either their offensive exploitation of systems or our defensive reaction or preventative actions. It is all done because computers are tools for humans to operate more effectively in any number of areas. They have no inherit value outside of use by humans. Many of us technical geeks forget that while we are digging into packets or studying architecture diagrams.
Therefore, I will keep using the word cyber proudly knowing that I am using it to keep the human as the central concept in intrusion analysis, information assurance, computer security, network security, or whatever else you want to define to enable humans to use information and communicate more effectively.