Computer Security And The Law

I. Introduction

You are a computer administrator for a large manufacturing company. In
the middle of a production run, all the mainframes on a crucial network grind to
a halt. Production is delayed costing your company millions of dollars. Upon
investigating, you find that a virus was released into the network through a
specific account. When you confront the owner of the account, he claims he
neither wrote nor released the virus, but he admits that he has distributed his
password to "friends" who need ready access to his data files. Is he liable for
the loss suffered by your company? In whole or in part? And if in part, for how
much? These and related questions are the subject of computer law. The answers
may very depending in which state the crime was committed and the judge who
presides at the trial. Computer security law is new field, and the legal
establishment has yet to reach broad agreement on may key issues.

Advances in computer security law have been impeded by the reluctance on
the part of lawyers and judges to grapple with the technical side of computer
security issues[1]. This problem could be mitigated by involving technical
computer security professional in the development of computer security law and
public policy. This paper is meant to help bridge to gap between technical and
legal computer security communities.


A. The Objectives of Computer Security

The principal objective of computer security is to protect and assure
the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of automated information
systems and the data they contain. Each of these terms has a precise meaning
which is grounded in basic technical ideas about the flow of information in
automated information systems.

B. Basic Concepts

There is a broad, top-level consensus regarding the meaning of most
technical computer security concepts. This is partly because of government
involvement in proposing, coordinating, and publishing the definitions of basic
terms[2]. The meanings of the terms used in government directives and
regulations are generally made to be consistent with past usage. This is not to
say that there is no disagreement over the definitions in the technical
community. Rather, the range of such disagreement is much narrower than in the
legal community. For example there is presently no legal consensus on exactly
what constitutes a computer[3].

The term used to establish the scope of computer security is "automated
information system," often abbreviated "AIS." An Ais is an assembly of
electronic equipment, hardware, software, and firmware configured to collect,
create, communicate, disseminate, process, store and control data or information.
This includes numerous items beyond the central processing unit and associated
random access memory, such as input/output devises (keyboards, printers, etc.)

Every AIS is used by subjects to act on objects. A subject is any
active entity that causes information to flow among passive entities called
objects. For example, subject could be a person typing commands which transfer
information from a keyboard (an object) to memory (another object),
or a process running on the central processing unit that is sending information
from a file(an object) to a printer a printer(another object).2

Confidentiality is roughly equivalent to privacy. If a subject
circumvents confidentiality measures designed to prevent it\'s access to an
object, the object is said to be "comprised." Confidentiality is the most
advanced area of computer security because the U.S. Department of Defense has
invested heavily for many years to find way to maintain the confidentiality of
classified data in AIS [4]. This investment has produced the Department of
Defense trusted computer system evaluation criteria[5], alternatively called
the Orange Book after the color of it\'s cover. The orange book is perhaps the
single most authoritative document about protecting the confidentiality of data
in classified AIS.

Integrity measures are meant to protect data form unauthorized
modification. The integrity of an object can be assessed by comparing it\'s
current state to it\'s original or intended state. An object which has been
modified by a subject with out proper authorization is sad to "corrupted."
Technology for ensuring integrity has lagged behind that for confidentiality[4].
This is because the integrity problem has until recently been addressed by
restricting access to AIS to trustworthy subjects. Today, the integrity threat
is no longer tractable exclusively through access control. The desire for wide
connectivity through networks and the increased us of commercial off the shelf
software has limited the degree to which most AIS\'s can trust accelerating
over the past few years, and will likely become as important a priority as
confidentiality in the future.

Availability means having an AIS system and it\'s associated objects
accessible and functional when needed by it\'s user