Vulnerabilities, threats, and risk in a chess metaphor

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Even for security professionals it’s sometimes tricky to properly think about the terms vulnerability, threat, risk, attack, and exploit.  It can be harder yet to describe these concepts to someone who is not a security professional.

In this excerpt from our upcoming book, Biometrics for Dummies, we explain these terms within the metaphor of a game of chess:

“Before we go any further, let’s look at the meaning of the terms threat, vulnerability and risk. Over the years we’ve found these terms to be used interchangeably and incorrectly. As with any industry jargon, these terms are tossed around and used by people who do fully understand their meaning, and by those who think they do — but don’t really.

* Vulnerability: a weakness in a system that may permit an attacker to compromise it.
* Threat: a potential activity that would, if it occurred, harm a system.
* Risk: the potential negative impact if a harmful event were to occur.

The terms vulnerability, threat, and risk can be visualized like this: Imagine a game of chess, where one player has a very weak position, and the other player has a very strong position. The player with the weak position is unable to protect his king — this is a vulnerability. The weak player’s king is vulnerable to attack – a position of high risk. The strong player has powerful pieces (such as a queen, bishops, and rooks) that are in low risk positions to easily capture the weak player’s king — this is a threat.

And while we’re at it, there are some other words we should discuss:

* Attack: the act of carrying out a threat with the intention of harming a system.
* Exploit (verb): the act of carrying out a threat against a specific vulnerability.
* Exploit (noun): a program, tool, or technique that can be used to attack a system.

Using the chess analogy again, the strong player could attack the weak player, exploiting his vulnerability to capture his king. The strong player’s method of attack would be known as his exploit against the weak, high-risk player.”

From Biometrics for Dummies


2 thoughts on “Vulnerabilities, threats, and risk in a chess metaphor

  1. Chess Analysis

    Hey nice site. Anyways chess tips. To become good one must learn from ones one mistakes And successes. Chess analysis pro 7000 I found very useful in helping my chess development. I’d recommend it. Next keep the pressure on. And learn to hold the tension on the board instead of running out of tension with no advantage gained.


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