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Which is the appropriate word to be used in the sentence:

The system we were testing was determined to be insecure/unsecure.

The usage is in the context of security, specifically a lack thereof.

I've always said insecure, because I didn't believe unsecure was a word (although unsecured is). Even as I type this, I'm getting a spell check complaint about it. However, I was laughed at once when I called a particular device "insecure."

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I'm not surprised they laughed at insecure device. It's pretty rare. But so is unsecure device. Both only get 2-3K Google hits when in quotes. I get orders of magnitude more hits for pretty meaningless things like blue, soft, short, sticky device. –  FumbleFingers Apr 6 '11 at 2:47
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@Fumble, I don't know why someone would laugh at "insecure device". One possibility is that they thought of the emotional meaning (not self-confident). That construction sounds normal. You're right that the exact phrase is pretty rare, but very similar constructions (insecure software, insecure computer, insecure system) are more common. –  Matthew Flaschen Apr 6 '11 at 17:41
    
@Mathew: I personally wouldn't laugh at either adjective applied to a device. I don't really care whether I read/write insecure or unsecure, but clearly 'standard' usage is overwhelmingly insecure. What surprised me was that to the world at large, apparently, 'devices' aren't normally evaluated in terms of their security. It's mostly 'systems', 'protocols', 'communications channels', and such. –  FumbleFingers Apr 6 '11 at 19:27
    
Noninunsecure devices are a threat these days :) Seriously though, as far as the word unsecure not being a word...Couldn't you say, "If you unsecure the rope, they will fall"? –  magic-smoke-puppet Feb 9 at 18:58
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7 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

I agree with Wayne Johnston, but will add some examples. Insecurity has always meant to me a lack or deficiency of security (in whatever context it is used), as opposed to a potentially secure system not being secure at this present time.

Though, I don't think it's black and white. Here are some examples of how I might use in/un-secure.

He was insecure and felt anxious when he went out with his friends.

The system is insecure and needs work before we can roll it out to production.

On the otherhand:

Your bike is unsecured. Don't you have a lock for it?

The rope was unsecured. If he didn't find a hook or tree to secure it soon, the truck would fall into the ravine.

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+1 for the examples. –  Wayne Johnston Apr 6 '11 at 3:04
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But you haven't given any examples of "unsecure". "Unsecured" is quite different. –  Colin Fine Apr 6 '11 at 13:11
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Unsecure isn't a word, as far people here are inclined to say. That's why I didn't use it. –  Nick Bedford Apr 6 '11 at 14:36
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Insecure means lacking in security. Unsecured means not secured, not fastened, or not guaranteed. *Unsecure is not a word as far as I can tell.

In your example the correct usage is insecure, meaning that the security of the system was found to be lacking.

The statement, "The system we were testing was determined to be unsecured," would mean that the security was disabled, not that it was deficient.

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The OED lists "unsecure" as obsolete (and has examples from 1656 to 1729). –  Colin Fine Apr 6 '11 at 13:17
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I would also accept "unsecured" meaning "no security at all", which is backed up by Dictionary.com's dictionaries. It would still be appropriate even if the security were not deliberately disabled. –  Matthew Flaschen Apr 6 '11 at 17:36
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Wikipedia offers a fairly lengthy article on computer insecurity, while unsecurity returns results mostly about the United Nations Security Council. Good enough for me.

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In the context of computer security, I would actually recommend "nonsecure"; a system is secure if it is reasonably well protected against intrusion, and nonsecure if it lacks some or all reasonable measures of protection. (Note that "secure" does not guarantee that a successful intrusion is impossible, only unlikely.)

Dictionaries haven't entirely caught up to this usage yet (dictionary.com doesn't have 'nonsecure' but m-w.com does, for example) but it's fairly standard in the computer security field.

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As a system never really is totally secure, you might want to use sufficient/insufficient security instead, which would circumvent the unusual unsecure/insecure phrase:

The system we were testing was determined to have sufficient security.

The system we were testing was determined to have insufficient secturity.

Sufficient security would mean that the system has reasonable security measures given it's specific situation.

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Insecure has neurotic connotations. I've always avoided applying it to things that can't suffer from that affliction unless I'm trying to be humorous.

Unsecure is more properly jargon with different specific meanings depending on context; eg. loans, physical protection (unsecured window, unsecured loan, etc). It's always unsecured rather than unsecure, but it also always has a physical and sometimes protective component.

Due to the distinct difference between the emotional and physical, I use unsecure for computing. Besides, I dislike anthropomorphizing an appliance.

IMHO, the propagation of insecure in the context of computing is a result of users whose primary source for proper English is their word processor's spell-checker. Spell-checkers typically don't support jargon.

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You will find both insecure and unsecure in most dictionaries. Unsecure is generally used for assets, commodities and systems and refers entirely to safety. Insecure is used predominantly for emotional stability but also for safety, particularly in American English. Corpus searches on both words will show you this usage distribution more clearly. You can use either word, although different audiences will find it more or less strange.

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