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Communications of the ACM

Privacy and security

FUD: A Plea For Intolerance

FUD: A Plea for Intolerance, illustration

Even a casual observer of computer security must notice the prevalence of FUD: non-falsifiable claims that promote fear, uncertainty, or doubt (FUD). We are bombarded with warnings of digital Pearl Harbors, the unstoppability of online hackers, and accounts of a cyber-crime problem that is said to rival the drug trade.

FUD sometimes masquerades as useful information though it is often "not even wrong," in the sense of making no clear claim that can be checked: exact figures for undefined quantities, dollar estimates based on absurd methodology, and astonishing facts that are traceable to no accountable source. FUD provides a steady stream of factoids (for example, the raw number of malware samples, activity on underground markets, or the number of users who will hand over their password for a bar of chocolate) the effect of which is to persuade us that things are bad and constantly getting worse. While the exaggeration of threats hardly began with computer security, the field has certainly made FUD its own.


CACM Administrator

The following letter was published in the Letters to the Editor of the September 2014 CACM (
--CACM Administrator

Although Dinei Florncio et al. made several rather grand claims in their Viewpoint "FUD: A Plea for Intolerance" (June 2014), including "The scale of the FUD problem is enormous," "While security is awash in scare stories and exaggerations," and "Why is there so much FUD?," they offered no evidence to support them. Odd, given that they also said, "We do not accept sloppy papers, so citing dubious claims (which are simply pointers to sloppy work) should not be acceptable either."

Alexander Simonelis
Montral, Canada


We offered many examples but could not include references for everything. Typing "digital Pearl Harbor," "trillion-dollar cybercrime," or other terms into a search engine will easily produce examples of who has been saying and repeating what.

Dinei Florncio
Cormac Herley
Adam Shostack

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