Security is freedom from, or resilience against, potential harm (or
other unwanted coercive change) from external forces. Beneficiaries
(technically referents) of security may be persons and social groups,
objects and institutions, ecosystems, and any other entity or
phenomenon vulnerable to unwanted change by its environment.
Refugees fleeing war and insecurity in Iraq and Syria arrive at Lesbos
Island, supported by Spanish volunteers, 2015
Security mostly refers to protection from hostile forces, but it has a
wide range of other senses: for example, as the absence of harm (e.g.
freedom from want); as the presence of an essential good (e.g. food
security); as resilience against potential damage or harm (e.g. secure
foundations); as secrecy (e.g. a secure telephone line); as
containment (e.g. a secure room or cell); and as a state of mind (e.g.
The term is also used to refer to acts and systems whose purpose may
be to provide security: (e.g. security forces; cyber security systems;
2.5 Contested approaches
3 Contexts of security (examples)
3.2 Corporate security
3.3 Ecological security
3.4 Food security
3.5 Home security
3.6 Human security
3.7 National security
4 Perceptions of security
Security concepts (examples)
6 See also
8 External links
The word 'secure' entered the English language in the 16th century.
It is derived from Latin securus, meaning freedom from anxiety: se
(without) + cura (care, anxiety).
A security referent is the focus of a security policy or discourse;
for example, a referent may be a potential beneficiary (or victim) of
a security policy or system.
Security referents may be persons or social groups, objects,
institutions, ecosystems, or any other phenomenon vulnerable to
unwanted change by the forces of its environment. The referent in
question may combine many referents, in the same way that, for
example, a nation state is composed of many individual citizens.
The security context is the relationships between a security referent
and its environment. From this perspective, security and insecurity
depend first on whether the environment is beneficial or hostile to
the referent, and also how capable is the referent of responding to
its/their environment in order to survive and thrive.
The means by which a referent provides for security (or is provided
for) vary widely. They include, for example:
Coercive capabilities, including the capacity to project coercive
power into the environment (e.g. aircraft carrier, handgun);
Protective systems (e.g. lock, fence, antivirus software, air defence
Warning systems (e.g. alarm, radar)
Diplomatic and social action intended to prevent insecurity from
developing (e.g. conflict prevention and transformation strategies);
Policy intended to develop the lasting economic, physical, ecological
and other conditions of security (e.g. economic reform, ecological
protection, progressive demilitarization).
Any action intended to provide security may have multiple effects. For
example, an action may have wide benefit, enhancing security for
several or all security referents in the context; alternatively, the
action may be effective only temporarily, or benefit one referent at
the expense of another, or be entirely ineffective or
Approaches to security are contested and the subject of debate. For
example, in debate about national security strategies, some argue that
security depends principally on developing protective and coercive
capabilities in order to protect the security referent in a hostile
environment (and potentially to project that power into its
environment, and dominate it to the point of strategic
supremacy). Others argue that security depends principally on
building the conditions in which equitable relationships can develop,
partly by reducing antagonism between actors, ensuring that
fundamental needs can be met, and also that differences of interest
can be negotiated effectively.
Contexts of security (examples)
The table shows some of the main domains where security concerns are
Port security/Supply chain security
Economic security/financial security
The range of security contexts is illustrated by the following
examples (in alphabetical order):
Computer security, also known as cybersecurity or IT security, refers
to the security of computing devices such as computers and
smartphones, as well as computer networks such as private and public
networks, and the Internet. The field has growing importance due to
the increasing reliance on computer systems in most societies. It
concerns the protection of hardware, software, data, people, and also
the procedures by which systems are accessed. The means of computer
security include the physical security of systems and security of
information held on them.
Main article: Corporate security
Corporate security refers to the resilience of corporations against
espionage, theft, damage, and other threats. The security of
corporations has become more complex as reliance on IT systems has
increased, and their physical presence has become more highly
distributed across several countries, including environments that are,
or may rapidly become, hostile to them.
Security checkpoint at the entrance to the
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines corporate
headquarters in Atlanta
X-ray machines and metal detectors are used to control what is allowed
to pass through an airport security perimeter.
Security checkpoint at the entrance to a shopping mall in Jakarta,
Main article: Environmental security
Ecological security, also known as environmental security, refers to
the integrity of ecosystems and the biosphere, particularly in
relation to their capacity to sustain a diversity of life-forms
(including human life). The security of ecosystems has attracted
greater attention as the impact of ecological damage by humans has
Graffiti about ecological security, Belarus, 2016
Main article: Food security
Food security refers to the ready supply of, and access to, safe and
Food security is gaining in importance as the
world's population has grown and productive land has diminished
through overuse and climate change.
Climate change is affecting global agriculture and food security
Main article: Home security
Home security normally refers to the security systems used on a
property used as a dwelling (commonly including doors, locks, alarm
systems, lighting, fencing); and personal security practices (such as
ensuring doors are locked, alarms activated, windows closed etc.)
Security spikes protect a gated community in the East End of London.
Main article: Human security
Boys play among the bombed-out ruins of Gaza City, 2009
Human security is the name of an emerging paradigm which, in response
to traditional emphasis on the right of nation states to protect
themselves, has focused on the primacy of the security of people
(individuals and communities). The concept is supported by the
United Nations General Assembly, which has stressed "the right of
people to live in freedom and dignity" and recognized "that all
individuals, in particular vulnerable people, are entitled to freedom
from fear and freedom from want".
Main article: National security
National security refers to the security of a nation state, including
its people, economy, and institutions. In practice, state governments
rely on a wide range of means, including diplomacy, economic power,
and military capabilities.
Perceptions of security
Since it is not possible to know with precision the extent to which
something is 'secure' (and a measure of vulnerability is unavoidable),
perceptions of security vary, often greatly. For example, a
fear of death by earthquake is common in the United States (US), but
slipping on the bathroom floor kills more people; and in France,
the United Kingdom and the US there are many fewer deaths by terrorism
than there are women killed by their partners in the
Another problem of perception is the common assumption that the mere
presence of a security system (such as armed forces, or antivirus
software) implies security. For example, two computer security
programs installed on the same device can prevent each other from
working properly, while the user assumes that he or she benefits from
twice the protection that only one program would afford.
Security theater is a critical term for measures that change
perceptions of security without necessarily affecting security itself.
For example, visual signs of security protections, such as a home that
advertises its alarm system, may deter an intruder, whether or not the
system functions properly. Similarly, the increased presence of
military personnel on the streets of a city after a terrorist attack
may help to reassure the public, whether or not it diminishes the risk
of further attacks.
Security concepts (examples)
Certain concepts recur throughout different fields of security:
Assurance - an expression of confidence that a security measure will
perform as expected.
Countermeasure - a means of preventing an act or system from having
its intended effect.
Defense in depth - a school of thought holding that a wider range of
security measures will enhance security.
Exploit (noun) - a means of capitalising on a vulnerability in a
security system (usually a cybersecurity system).
Resilience - the degree to which a person, community, nation or system
is able to resist adverse external forces.
Risk - a possible event which could lead to damage, harm, or loss.
Threat - a potential source of harm.
Vulnerability - the degree to which something may be changed (usually
in an unwanted manner) by external forces.
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