This article just was posted to my Twitter stream (Hat Tip: Chris Boyd). Graham Cluely from Sophos calls for people to stop using the word “endpoint” and replace it with “computer” as it confuses users. On it’s face, it makes sense. My wife would have no idea what I was talking about if I started bandying about “endpoints” in conversation instead of “computers”. I also completely agree that the term “endpoint” is incredibly overused by marketing departments. However, if we start trying to fit our nomenclature into simpler terms rather then continue to use our existing ones, are we hurting ourselves in the long term?
Allow me to babble about my childhood. I have always had a deep love of radios. My dad would have the police scanner on almost every evening and one of the channels he had crystaled in was “North Shore CMED.” For the 99.9% of you who have no idea what CMED was, it allowed ambulances to brief hospitals about inbound patients being delivered to their ER. For those of you familar with the 1970s era TV Show Emergency, the radio traffic was similar to the calls between Squad 51 and Rampart. Now, what does this have to do with endpoints? Well, back when I first started listening, there would be patients that were involved in “car accidents”. Then, a few years later, “car accidents” started being replaced with “motor vehicle accident” or “MVA”, makes sense, right? Person could be in a truck, bus, dune buggy, etc. Now, apparently, the new term is no longer “MVA”, it is now a “MVC” or “Motor Vehicle Collision”, that makes sense too, right? Person could have decided to ram someone off the road or is suicidal. These terms do a better job of encompassing all possible scenarios, despite most people possibly not understanding the difference between a “car accident” and a “motor vehicle collision”.
This reasoning is exactly why we use the term endpoint. While the public might not understand the difference between a “computer” and an “endpoint” there are key differences between the two. For example: I currently have five endpoints on my desk, but only two computers, the other three are an embedded device, an IP phone, and my mobile phone. While all are endpoints and you could make the case that all five are indeed “computers”, they do not fit what the general public thinks a computer is. When you’re talking about endpoint security, you need to keep in mind anything that is a destination for information is an endpoint and they all need to be protected. Yes, in 90% of the cases it is a computer, but this is rapidly changing. Language is a very powerful tool. By switching to “endpoints” instead of “computers” we as professionals are being more specific to whats affected. If we say that computers are affected by a certain issue, do we mean only computers? Or do we mean computers along with other devices? As a side benefit, it’s also the first step to start convincing people that they need to start looking at any kind of device needs to be secure.
While we’re not going to be changing any thinking overnight, nor are we going to enjoy answering the endless questions of “What’s an endpoint? Oh, you mean a computer…” its one of those painful things that we’re going to need to do. Keeping ourselves to old definitions keeps us from talking about evolving threats accurately and that’s just a bad idea.