Network Security guide for the home or small business network – Part 15 – Security Through obscurity



I remember many years ago watching a Dr. Who episode where a very important key was “hidden” in a display of many other keys. Kind of like hiding a tree in a forest. This concept is “security by obscurity”. Generally this is considered a bad approach to security. It is a bad approach if this is the ONLY thing you consider. Many examples are security by obscurity are usually thought of as… proprietary applications that keep source code secret so no one can find what flaws exist, using operating systems or programs that are “obscure” or have small market share and are not targetted.


The first item is obviously one that doesn’t work. How many security vulnerabilities in Windows have been reported from outside Microsoft? I don’t know that there’s an accurate count – point is LOTS. The second one is something I talked about in the last entry. It can help as a part of an overall strategy but shouldn’t be considered the magic bullet. There are some things about the design of Apple and Linux systems that I think discourage the spread of malware if done right, but not every distribution (or user) may “do things right”. Any built in security measure is usually possible to circumvent.

Another angle on security through obscurity is this. Let’s say you decide you DO want to run a webserver on your machine and allow access from the outside world. Let’s say that you don’t want it to be obvious though and decide that instead of the usual port 80, you want it to run on port 8888, then to access it an outsider would have to enter http://yoursiteaddress:8888 The address wouldn’t show up in a typical scan for listening servers on port 80 and it would certainly have less visibility. If it’s configured insecurely though it certainly won’t help protect against someone that discovers it and wants to break in.

So, in certain circumstances, obscuring yourself for security purposes can be useful, but they shouldn’t be relied on as the only way to stay safe.

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