Learn more about how information technology is changing
our lives and our world. PLUS NEWS + EVENTS

Security Analysis Post 9/11

I have written a lot about security over the past several years. I don’t call myself a security expert because I know a lot of real security experts, but having worked in the field a long time, I am quite knowledgeable on the subject so I thought I should weigh in on how we’re doing since 9/11/2001.

National Security – Better & Worse
It’s better because we now have funds being directed towards infrastructure costs that were needed such as securing water treatment facilities and mail protection. Unfortunately, there are also places that are inherently week and must remain so in order to be productive. Can you imagine searching every truck that went over the Bay Bridge to make sure it did not contain explosives? Traffic would be impossible.

National Security is worse because most of our military is elsewhere. If we were attacked at home again, depending on how we were attacked, we would not necessarily be able to respond rapidly. Also the Department of Homeland Security has become a major bureaucracy without much real accountability and that accounts for some of the lack of speed.

Air Travel Security – Better
TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has become another huge entity. The government has poured tons of money into it, but in the end, it’s still a guessing game as to what tactics the terrorists will try to use next and whether it will even involve transportation at all. Rules keep changing to meet with current estimates of threats, including banning liquids. However, there are always holes in that system. For example, powdered infant formula is still allowed from what I’ve read. It is possible to make bombs out of infant formula, for example.

Air travel security is better because people are paying more attention to what’s at stake, TSA employees generally do a good job (although they tend to relax when the terror alert is low, which isn’t necessarily the right thing to do) and they tend to pay more attention to social engineering. A few basic changes that were made soon after 9/11 like locking the cockpit made planes much more secure. There are still issues with securing the airports themselves. Unfortunately, requiring biometric identification for passports isn’t necessarily the right direction either due to inherent flaws in most of the biometric systmes.

Computer Security – The Same
With computer and network security, the problem is decentralized. And it rests on the shoulders on every company and server administrator to keep the Internet secure. A nasty virus could be released from anywhere to cripple systems across the globe. But computer security always gets put on the back burner when money is tight because it doesn’t directly make companies money (although it does save them money usually in the long run).

The Cybersecurity arm of the Department of Homeland Security still needs to gain its footing. It has changed leadership numerous times since its inception and the only places I’ve heard of that really sounds like the government is taking any action are in securing government labs more tightly and creating an FBI hacker army of sorts – a computer crime squad. The NSA (National Security Agency) was doing wiretaps on international calls for a while but now that has been determined to be unconstitutional. I wouldn’t really call that security anyway – it was more of an investigatory method.

Local Response – Better
I think this area improved more from the failures in New Orleans than due to 9/11. Much was promised for local response, but again it’s an issue of money. Security and training is expensive, so with a tough economy, local responders are the last rung on the ladder to get paid. But since we had another (natural this time) disaster, it brought attention to the weaknesses in this process. The City of Menlo Park and San Mateo County have both sent out mailers on Emergency Preparedness and I have noticed more information sessions available to residents over the past few years.

Overall – Better
It would be sad to think that all of the money, time and effort going into security was not yielding some results after five years. I think overall, security is better (but don’t let that fool you – there’s still a lot that needs to be done and I still think the administration has been weak in this area). Awareness has increased and that is the first and most vital step in improving security. Unfortunately, we need occasional reminders that there are still terrorists out there waiting to strike and that not every nation is friendly to us in order to stay on alert. It’s a delicate balance that must be struck between security and productivity, but that is the challenge we continue to face today.