The Hierarchy of Needs in High Tech

Uncertainty multiplies even esoteric threats, while clear needs get short shrift.

Last week, a public relations agency asked me if I were still interested in a topic that Ive been covering for more than 10 years—"or are you now all security, all the time?" I assured them that development tools, emerging technologies and many other topics are still on my radar—but yes, I have been writing a lot about security in the last two or three years.

Intense security coverage, throughout the pages of eWeek, reminds us of Abraham Maslows "hierarchy of needs": People pay attention to a need not because its important but only when they fear harm from not having it met. High uncertainty, multiplying moderate importance, overshadows more vital needs facing less perceived risk.

Last summer, for example, we were writing about Californias electricity supply: Volts and amps are still more vital to a server farm than key lengths and authentication protocols, but this year, the power coming out of the outlet seems much less in jeopardy than the security of our bit streams. Uncertainty multiplies even esoteric threats: When we dont know how bad things might be, we wind up giving unlikely problems more attention than they deserve, while definite needs (like backup) get short shrift.

Better data on network traffic can help us put security concerns in a more realistic perspective. Palisade Systems ( offered a jump-start in May with its freely downloadable PacketPup, a lightweight, software-only version of the more complete capability in the companys PacketHound network appliance. Palisade President and CTO Doug Jacobson co-invented the companys patented approach to monitoring packet streams and disrupting prohibited traffic: It identifies packets that indicate violation of network policies and injects a reset packet to break the connection. The technique is scalable and reliable. It reminds me of listening to the TV set from another room and zapping it with the remote control if I hear something that my children should not be watching.

I dont mean to minimize security concerns. Its a war out there. The Internet may have started life as an electronic faculty lunchroom, but now its more like a Calcutta bazaar. Knowing what you face, though, is the first step in protection.

Tell me whats more important than security at