Last week, while teaching the CCSK (cloud security) class, the discussion reached a point I often find myself in these days. We were discussing the risk of cloud computing, and one of the students listed “less control” as a security risk.

To be honest, this weaves itself through not only the Guidance but most risk analyses I have seen. And it’s not limited to cloud discussions. One of the places I hear it most often is in reference to mobile computing – especially iOS devices.

For example, while hosting an event at RSA earlier this year we had a security pro with over 10 years experience state that they don’t let iPads/iPhones in, but they still use Windows XP. When I asked why they allow a patently out of date and insecure OS, while blocking one of the most secure devices on the market, his response was “we know Windows XP and can control it”.

Which, to me, is like saying you are satisfied to pick exactly which window the burglar will come and leave through.

More knowledge or control doesn’t necessarily translate into better security. In fact, uncertainty can be a powerful motivator to implement security controls you otherwise neglect due to a misplaced sense of certainty.

We all know you are far less likely to crash in a plane than to die in a car accident. Or that your children are far more at risk of drowning or (again) car accidents than of being abducted by a stranger. But we feel in control when driving a car, so we feel safer even though that’s flat-out wrong.

You can’t control everything. Not your own systems or employees, no matter where they are located. Design for uncertainty, and you can better adapt to new opportunities or threats, at (I suspect, but can’t prove) the same costs. Not that you shouldn’t maintain some degree of control, but don’t assume control means security.