• United States



Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who

Apr 05, 20122 mins
Data and Information SecurityTechnology Industry

Cyber, cyber, cyber, cyber, cyber, cyber. (Is this bothering you?)

I have a degree in Linguistics. (But I have a job anyway! Rimshot!) So I have some training in arguing about semantics.

You might even say I have a degree in arguing about semantics.

Arguing about semantics is fun, and sometimes it’s actually productive and necessary. Example: There’s an emerging discipline called content strategy, a collision of journalism, marketing, user experience and other fields. Content strategists have spilled a fair amount of ink going back and forth about what content strategy means, or should mean. That’s needed. From this argument emerge more clearly defined goals, better tools for describing the field, and so on. This is good.

Another example, closer to home: The very smart folks on the security metrics mailing list—see—occasionally engage in a rousing debate about what security means, which springs from people’s attempts to usefully measure security. This is good, and interesting, though perhaps a bit repetitive or circular at times.

Sometimes, though, a word is just a word, and arguing about it or against it is a complete waste of time.

That’s the case with the word or prefix cyber.

This word seems to rankle many IT security professionals. Actually, “rankle” is too soft a term. It aggravates, irritates, even enrages them. It’s lazy, they say; it’s meaningless. It’s the shorthand of mainstream media hacks who think they’re gearheads because they read Neuromancer in middle school.

Here’s my thought on the matter, as a trained semantics-arguer and picker of linguistic nits: WHO CARES!

The stronger the reaction, the more puzzled I become. Surely this is the transformation of a proverbial molehill. Is this an issue security should focus on? Is this word damaging the profession’s prospects and effectiveness? Is this really so offensive that the rest of the business world—the people whose risks you are working to mitigate—should see the security world looking peevish and petulant about it?

When people talk about cybersecurity or cyberdefense or cyberwar, they’re talking about the digital world and its security challenges. That’s good. Yes, you can dissect the language and point out its imprecision. So what? Instead, let’s not.

Let’s rejoice that the issue is on their minds, and strive to engage productively with them.

Even a linguist can recognize that sometimes a word is just a word.