Security. A word that can instantly bring many vivid images to mind, depending on who you are and where you’re from. It’s funny that a word we use every day and that seems so powerful and important to us becomes so elusive when we actually try and explain what it means.
Think for a moment about your daily routine. Picture it clearly in your mind. Identify each moment from when you first wake up in the morning until the moment you don’t even realize you’re sleeping soundly in your bed. Think about all of the things you do. Think of all the things around you.
If you’re anything like me, you wake up in the morning and either a) your alarm is going off or b) you check to see what time it is. Your clock or your phone is on the bedside table next to you. You might check your email. You might check Facebook or Twitter.
Next, you might walk to the bathroom, use the toilet, take a hot shower, brush your teeth and get dressed.
Once clean, you might make coffee and have breakfast before reading the morning paper or watching your favorite morning news show.
Checking your watch, you realize it’s time to move, so you go to your car, start the engine and drive to work.
At the end of the day, you might come home, make dinner, visit with family and/or friends, and read or watch some TV while browsing the Internet and social media on your phone or iPad.
Starting to feel a bit tired, you retire to bed, pull the covers over you and drift off to sleep to start the process again the next day.
With your own version of the above now fresh in your mind: what exactly did you accomplish? How did you feel as you went about your daily routine?
When you woke up, what was your first thought?
When you reached for your phone?
When you prepared breakfast?
When you went to turn on the TV?
When you went to your car?
When you looked for your iPad?
When you shut off your light and went to sleep?
Did you feel safe?
When you wanted to check the time, use the toilet, something to eat, to drive to work, to check Facebook and get some rest, did you feel confident that the things you needed to complete the task were there and ready for you to use?
My guess is that you never even thought about it. Most of us don’t.
A whole other world
Now, imagine you lived in a South African township like the one pictured above. If you know your US history or have seen Cinderella Man, remember the “Hoovervilles,” those informal communities in New York’s Central Park and elsewhere during The Great Depression? Same idea.
If you’re lucky, your home is about 3m x 2m (about 64 sq. ft.). Your roof and walls are made of poorly fitting pieces of tin, discarded timber, old doors or whatever you can find. Your floor is made of dirt and is unlevel. Your door has no lock, and it doesn’t even fit properly due to the way the opening has settled during the rains. You have no windows.
When the sun shines on a cloudless day, your walls are so hot you can’t touch them. When it rains, your bed gets wet because your roof leaks. You are separated from your neighbors by anything from a heavy blanket to a piece of tin. You have no running water. You have no toilet but a bucket. You might have unreliable electricity, but you do have a small fridge, an old 13″ TV with a fuzzy picture and maybe even a VCR.
For this rented accommodation you pay from $10-20/month. You make about $200/month, and of that, you spend another $10-20/month on transport taking at least an hour each way to and from work. You don’t take the train because of the recent armed robberies.
You don’t have a bank account. All your money is in cash. You’re a trained accountant in your home country. You clean houses, work as a gardener or do occasional maintenance work. You’re honest, you don’t drink or do drugs and you would never steal from your employers.
You saved money for 6 months to buy a new, pre-paid phone so you can browse the Internet and access Facebook. After 3 days, it was stolen by a guy who lives next to you. He sold it for cash to buy drugs.
Most of what you make is sent home to your family, in cash and in person, by someone who makes 10% of what you send each month.
The people who live around you hate you because you’re from a different country. Regular xenophobic violence in the township where you live leaves people you know wounded or dead.
You regularly don’t feel well enough to go to work, and you probably have HIV. You don’t know for sure because you’re afraid to take the test and find out.
If this was your life, how would you feel?
Would you feel safe?
Would you feel confident and able to do what you needed to do?
I wouldn’t either.
Security is always a property of something else
Security is feeling safe enough in your environment to go about your business. Security is having the confidence of knowing what you need for task at hand is available to you and ready for you to use.
Security is not doors, locks, fences, armed guards, police, armies, fighter jets or thermonuclear weapons. Those are controls.
You apply those controls in the right places and in the right quantities so that you and those around you feel safe to work, live and play. You feel confident your Internet connectivity is working, you have running water, food in the cupboard and your iPad is still sitting on the sofa where you left it. In fact, you never really think about any of these things until they’re not there.
This feeling of safety and confidence allows you to focus your energies on other things, those things that really matter to you.
Feeling safe and confident enables you.
That’s what security is–it’s an enabler, not a thing.
How much you need depends on where you are and what you need to do.
You can’t measure it objectively or empirically, but you can measure how easy it was to perform a task. You can measure how quickly the task was performed because it was executed in a safe environment and with confident access to the necessary resources.
How much security do you need?
How safe and confident to you need to feel to do what you need to do?
Both questions give you the same answer.
That answer is your definition of security.