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Trusting software December 1, 2013

Posted by brltkd in Security.

Trust is the belief that someone or something is reliable, good, and honest [1]. We all have people in our lives that we trust; people like our family, friends, and coworkers. Additionally we have trust in things like your car starting or the elevator stopping at the correct floor. With the pervasiveness of computers in society, people have also placed a lot of trust in the software they run. However, many people do not know how most software is written, or where and how the information is stored, yet they trust it with sensitive personal and financial information. Why do people trust software?

Computer software is nothing more than a set of rules and conditions that control and execute a set of operations in a computer. It is written by people and it is only as trustworthy as the people that wrote the software. In the majority of cases, this is not an issue. Many software developers are members of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and follow their code of ethics and professional conduct. Some of the major points of this code are to be honest, respect the privacy of others, avoid harm to others, and to contribute to society [2]. While these are requirements for members of ACM, they are not unique to the computing industry. These are general tenets that the majority of people follow in their daily lives, regardless of their occupation or social standing. So, in general, people tend have trust in something unless it violates one of those precepts.

The reputation of a company relies on the quality of the product it produces. If they are not producing a quality product, consumers will find a replacement and that companies reputation will suffer. While this has always applied to businesses in the real world, it is exasperated on the Internet. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, has stated that “if you make customers unhappy in the real world, they might tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends.” [3] The ability to spread customer experiences in this magnitude gives most online and computing businesses a great incentive to ensure their software is reliable which builds trust among their customer base.

Yet, online it is easy for someone to misrepresent themselves, and design websites or send emails that exploit the trust that a company has established. It is in the interest of both consumers and businesses to aggressively target individuals perpetrating these schemes. Businesses often put measures in place to reduce the risk of someone misrepresenting them. This may include technological options such as using encrypted communication and registering with third party organizations like the Better Business Bureau. Consumers need to be proactive to ensure they are communicating with the actual business they intended. This may involve validating the businesses membership and standing with a third party organization or simply calling the phone number listed on their website and talking to someone.

Engaging in business and communicating with people online is no different that performing these actions in person. You need to be aware of the true identity of the other party. This is often more difficult online because you lose the face to face interaction. However, there are resources available to that can help establish that trust which is the foundation of any relationship. Make sure to use them.


Merriam-Webster, “Trust,” 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/trust.


Association for Computing Machinery, “ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct,” 16 October 1992. [Online]. Available: http://www.acm.org/about/code-of-ethics.


C. Voss, “Lessons in Customer Service for Tech Startups and Empire Avenue Fail,” Chris Voss Show, 2011. [Online]. Available: http://thechrisvossshow.com/lessons-in-customer-service-for-tech-startups-and-empires-avenue/.


K. Thompson, “Reflections on trusting trust,” Communications of the ACM, vol. 27, no. 8, pp. 761-763, August 1984.


Microsoft, “When to trust a website,” Microsoft, 2013. [Online]. Available: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/when-to-trust-a-website-ie9.



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