Protecting Our Families with
the Lord's Security Methods

by John P. Pratt

Reprinted from Meridian Magazine (Feb. 7, 2002)
©2002 by John P. Pratt. All rights Reserved.

Index, Home

1. Intelligence
2. Filtered Firewalls
3. A House of Order
The Lord employs at least three security methods which we can implement within our own families: intelligence, filtered firewalls, and a house of order.

Our attention has recently been drawn to security issues, and suddenly all of us are thinking about increasing security not only in public places, but perhaps also in our own homes. We are asking how devastating terrorist attacks like those of Sept. 11, 2001, can be prevented, and we are wondering how to curtail the attacks on our computers by the multitude of viruses and worms which seem to be increasing daily. Some feel helpless against the onslaught of immorality which invades our homes via television, radio, magazines, CD's, videos and the internet. And then there are the age-old problems of burglars and war, not to mention natural disasters, financial collapses and disease. So how are we to maintain a sense of security against these attacks on every front by the adversary? Does the Lord have a security system? And if so, what principles can we learn from it, which could be used to help keep our families protected against the rising tide of evil?

Anyone who has travelled recently by air has witnessed a great display of increased airport security with the military painfully obvious in their "camouflage" attire, apparently chosen so that they would not blend in with their surroundings, but instead would increase our confidence that passengers are well protected. But then when it comes down to the actual security check, travellers may have been surprised that nail clippers were being confiscated from senior citizens because they had a potentially threatening nail file attached. Seeing that had the reverse effect on me; it caused me to lose confidence in the system because it seemed to be addressing the wrong problem. Clearly someone with the intent to do harm could do much more damage with his bare hands than anyone could do with nail clippers. How would the Lord run security at an airport? What security principles are found in nature? How is security maintained in the Church? And how is security in heaven implemented?

This article does not intend to be an in-depth treatise the Lord's security program, to which the author does not even pretend to be privy. Rather it is intended to be an introduction to some general methods based on simply observing what the Lord has done in nature and in his dealings with mankind. Many of these methods have obvious application to protecting our families.

Of the many security methods which the Lord seems to employ, only three are discussed in this article: 1) intelligence, 2) filtered firewalls, and 3) a house of order. Let's take a brief look at each.

1. Intelligence

The keystone of the highest level of security is intelligence, meaning knowing in advance what the enemy is planning to do. When the enemy can have the advantage of a surprise attack, much more damage can be done, as was witnessed on the attack on the Twin Towers. If the intended victim has no warning at all and is totally unsuspecting then utter devastation can result. On the other hand, even a few minutes notice of an intended attack can be enough to entirely thwart it, as was also seen on that same fateful day when the fourth jet was downed by the passengers who had been advised of the terrorist plan with a simple telephone call.

The Lord has the supreme advantage over Satan in any contest, because he commands all intelligence and knows the end from the beginning. That should be the deepest basis of our own personal security, to know that during the Millennium Satan will be bound for a thousand years and in the end the Lord will cast Satan out entirely. And in the short term, the best army generals either consult with the Lord directly, or through prophets, to know what the enemy is planning. For example, right from the beginning, Capt. Moroni consulted with the prophet:

But it came to pass, as soon as they had departed into the wilderness Moroni sent spies into the wilderness to watch their camp; and Moroni, also, knowing of the prophecies of Alma, sent certain men unto him, desiring him that he should inquire of the Lord whither the armies of the Nephites should go to defend themselves against the Lamanites.
And it came to pass that the word of the Lord came unto Alma, and Alma informed the messengers of Moroni, that the armies of the Lamanites were marching round about in the wilderness, that they might come over into the land of Manti, that they might commence an attack upon the weaker part of the people. And those messengers went and delivered the message unto Moroni. (Alma 43:23-24)

Moroni took it from there. Simply knowing what the Lamanites were planning was enough for him to devise his plans.

The Lord can and does reveal other works of darkness to his prophets, so they can be forewarned:

And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.
And now, my son, these interpreters were prepared that the word of God might be fulfilled, which he spake, saying:
I will bring forth out of darkness unto light all their secret works and their abominations; and except they repent I will destroy them from off the face of the earth; and I will bring to light all their secrets and abominations, unto every nation that shall hereafter possess the land. (Alma 37:23-25)

One of the best examples of very high level intelligence is the account of how the Prophet Joseph Smith managed to keep the golden plates despite repeated attacks from the adversary. Both sides used advanced intelligence techniques to discover the others plan. A woman was employed by the Prophet's enemies to look into a stone to discover where the Prophet had hidden the plates. She had the mob tear up the floor of the cooper's shop where the prophet had had the plates hidden in a box, but all they found was the empty box. The Prophet had moved the plates to the hayloft just before their arrival. The Prophet's counter-intelligence revelation was greater than his adversary's.

The wonderful conclusion is something the Lord told us to "Remember, remember":

The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they come to naught.
For God doth not walk in crooked paths, neither doth he turn to the right hand nor to the left, neither doth he vary from that which he hath said, therefore his paths are straight, and his course is one eternal round.
Remember, remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men; (D&C 3:1-3)
Truly we would do well never to forget that wonderful truth. That knowledge alone could be the basis of letting all of the Lord's followers feel totally secure in the knowledge that the Lord's work will succeed.

Another excellent example of super-early warning intelligence is the fact that the Lord had Nephi engrave a second set of plates, repeating much of the same story that was in the larger plates. He said he didn't know why he was doing it, but that it was for a "wise purpose" which the Lord knew, because he knows "all things from the beginning" (1 Nephi 9:5-6). The answer was revealed some 2400 years later when wicked men stole the Prophet Joseph Smith's translation of the first 116 pages of the larger plates. The Lord then comforted Joseph that he knew exactly what Satan's plan was:

And, behold, Satan hath put it into their hearts to alter the words which you have caused to be written, or which you have translated, which have gone out of your hands. . . .
Verily, I say unto you, that I will not suffer that Satan shall accomplish his evil design in this thing. . . .
I will not suffer that they shall destroy my work; yea, I will show unto them that my wisdom is greater than the cunning of the devil. (D&C 10:10, 14, 43)

Recognizing the Adversary. Note that "intelligence" encompasses using every means we can to determine what the adversary is planning. Thus, in our own intelligence system, we should learn what we can about a variety of problems which could occur so that we are prepared. We might do well to learn the signs of drug abuse that our children might be involved in. We could study the methods of evil in the political arena, so that we can recognize Satan's standard techniques to overthrow freedom. We could recognize how he induces people to gamble or get into debt with his promises of "something for nothing." Of course, we should spend much more time studying the scriptures and how the Lord does things, but some basic awareness of Satan's methods could go a long way in avoiding his traps. Perhaps another way of making this point is to note that even after the Lord told Moroni through a prophet about what the Lamanites were doing, he still sent out spies to gather all the intelligence they could about the enemy.

Our personal warning system. The Lord has also given mankind, and to many animals, a "sixth sense" with which they can be forewarned of danger or impending attacks. In the case of mankind, everyone is born into the world with the light of Christ (John 1:9), which can reveal truth, which includes the knowledge of things to come (D&C 93:24). Moreover, confirmed members of his Church are allowed to receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, which can be even more specific in giving needed foreknowledge.

Some people practice keeping their own personal early warning system functional, and improve their ability to tune into it, by doing daily exercises in "awareness." For example, they practice timing phone calls so they will be answered, choosing the row in the parking lot which has an open parking place, or picking the lane of traffic which will be unimpeded. If we practice listening to our inborn intelligence system, perhaps we will be able to heed it when warned of impending disaster.

It might also be instructive to learn from nature in this matter of intelligence. Given that many animals seem to have the gift of knowing when they are being hunted or are in danger, the question arises how they can ever be caught. Tom Brown, a well known naturalist who has spent countless hours watching animals in the wild, observed that most healthy animals which became victims were usually killed while being distracted by one of three things: food (often they were busy eating), focusing on the opposite sex, or protecting their territory. That sure sounds reminiscent of the same distractions which people suffer, and which also can result in loss of life.

Follow the Prophet. In the forest, certain birds watch for danger coming from afar, and call out a warning cry from the treetop to all the inhabitants that danger is approaching. The Lord uses the same system by telling his prophets what is coming, and instructing them to warn all who will listen how to prepare. Thus, even if our own private warning system is faulty or we lack practice in using it, we can heed the prophet's counsel to us. If we follow all of the wonderful counsel which we receive from the prophet, then we can feel secure that our salvation will be secured. On a more local basis, there are many accounts of the inhabitants of a stake having been warned of danger to their area by their stake president. To the extent possible, our priesthood leaders will warn us of trouble, but in the final analysis, we may have to depend on our direct intelligence line to God.

2. Filtered Firewalls

Given that we have been warned of a problem, what do we do about it? What preparations do we make? What is the second line of defense? There are many possible answers, depending on the danger. It might be best to flee, or to fight, or to build a defensive shelter. The Lord has taught animals to use all of these methods, but let us focus especially on the latter method of building a wall because it often prevents a fight and doesn't require us to leave.

Building walls is a very common way to try to attempt to keep trouble at a distance. Walls have been built around cities, moats around castles, and mosquito netting around sleeping bags. Walls are also found throughout nature: living cells all have walls, trees have bark, snails have shells, and all plants and animals have some sort of protective outer skin or similar covering. To me, anything found throughout nature qualifies to be included in methods used by the Lord, for he designed all the wonderful creatures of nature. The Lord also uses physical walls. There is a wall or fence around many of the Lord's temples. The genealogical records of the church are stored in vaults deep in a granite mountain with doors built to withstand a nuclear attack. And the Savior taught that in the next world the righteous and wicked are separated by an impassible gulf (Luke 16:26).

Note, however, that seamless walls, which are totally impenetrable everywhere, are rarely found in either nature or human civilization. The problem with a truly thorough wall is that it tends to keep out both the bad and the good. Houses have walls, but they also have doors. Thus, every fort and every walled city had a gate or some other passage to give access to the "good" people while keeping out the "bad". Plastic bags are not used for mosquito protection because they keep out the air also and suffocate the person who should be protected. The wall which protects every cell by keeping out undesirable elements is always permeable, letting in what is needed, such as nutrition, and also allowing waste and other unneeded components to be excreted. Thus, both natural and man-made walls almost always have gates which allow certain members to pass both in and out of the protected zone.

Along with such a gate, a keeper of the gate is always needed in a protective wall. It is his job to determine who is "good" and who is "bad," or at least who is allowed in and who should be kept out. This gate keeper is essential to the security wall because if he allows undesirable factors to enter, they could destroy the protected area. Our subconscious minds have a conscious mind for a security guard to prevent unauthorized access; hypnosis is the process of putting our gate keeper to sleep and allowing someone else to command our system. So, given that gated walls are common in nature, how is the gate keeper to judge the good from the bad? In the case of heaven, we are taught that Jesus Christ himself is the keeper of the gate (2 Nephi 9:41). Surely that method is guaranteed not to make a mistake, but what decision criteria should be used in other cases?

One common method to pass through an access gate is the "password" or "secret sign". Passwords are often used to gain entrance into restricted meetings or areas. Signs and sounds are used among animals to give warning of danger. Computers often use passwords to restrict access to certain areas or programs. A similar method is presentation of a certificate of authenticity, such as a temple recommend or a picture I.D. badge to enter a restricted area. Another variation used is to verify some information that only an authentic entrant would know, such as a mother's maiden name or a social security number. As an example of how the Lord has used this last method, when Oliver Cowdery was wondering how he could tell if it really was the Lord answering his prayers through the Prophet Joseph Smith, he was told what he had felt in his heart when he had prayed secretly, something that only the Lord could know (D&C 6:22-24).

Firewalls. Now that the internet is widely available, computer "firewalls" are becoming increasingly important as an example of a protective wall. When a computer is "on-line" and connected to the internet, it is not only able to connect to wonderful sites such as the Church sites, but also to sites which openly advertise evil, such as gambling and pornography, as well as sites which secretly attempt to infect your computer with viruses and worms which can destroy valuable information. With the advent of high-speed internet access lines, more and more lines are always "on", which can greatly increase their exposure to threatening forces. A "firewall" is a program which attempts to screen out all undesirable attempts by unsolicited connections to access your computer. The "keeper of the gate" process of determining wanted from unwanted is often called "filtering" in computer jargon, from the concept of any filter, like a water filter, which attempts to allow pure water to pass while preventing impurities to pass through. Thus, by the phrase "filtered firewall", I mean the same concept as the permeable cell wall: a wall set up to prevent all unwanted traffic to enter, any yet allow the desirable messages to pass through. The computer industry now has some good firewalls available, but is still in the process of designing filters which can be truly effective at screening out internet filth which can be cleverly disguised.

Application to the Family. To me, the application is that once we have recognized the kinds of filtered firewalls the Lord uses, we can employ similar strategy to protect our homes. Our homes have walls and locked doors too for protection. And yet many of us have been dismayed by what easily penetrates these walls and attempts to destroy our families. While we are busy trying to set up some sort of TV program monitoring, we discover that totally uncensored pornography is not only available on the internet, it turns out that even those who have never looked at it are deluged daily with email invitations to do so.

As a first application, perhaps a correct principle is not to try to build a totally impermeable wall by avoiding the new technology altogether. That was my first reaction, and it now seems misguided. A few years ago when my children were begging to get the internet, we had heard so many horror stories about pornography that we delayed getting it, wanting to protect our home from evil. We also avoided cable TV in an attempt to totally avoid technology which could be used for evil. Then a friend asked us to help him do the temple ordinances for the 700 new ancestors he had found through internet correspondence with a woman in Germany. It hit me like a bolt of lightning that Satan did not invent the internet! The Lord is behind all great inventions and that includes computers near the top of the list. Networked computers will certainly play a big role in the genealogy work done in the Millennium.

The internet can be used to spread the gospel better than has ever been done before, now penetrating with satellite communication even areas without telephone lines. So I not only jumped onboard the internet, I even accepted this position to write a monthly column for it. The internet can be used for good or for evil, and if we don't use it for good, then Satan will have commandeered it totally for his own purposes. The Church is using it more and more, and genealogy work accounts for one of the largest volumes of internet activity. The problem is not with the internet itself, but with the security breech which allows unwanted material to enter our homes.

Thus, it now appears that a good filtered computer firewall would be a great asset to any family with internet access. I am still in the process of finding one, but now the characteristics it should have are beginning to come into focus. For example, consider e-mail. Yesterday I received 74 e-mail letters, of which my trained keeper-of-the-gate-finger deleted all but four. A computer could be taught to have deleted most of the bad ones by looking for offensive words, or by having come from a source which I had previously deleted without opening. I certainly don't want to filter out all e-mail from people I don't know, because those are some of the best. Similar filters could be made for web sites, and I believe some good filters exist.

Other applications of the principle to the family might involve the telephone. We used to allow anyone to call us at any time, and then we realized that we are vulnerable to attack. There are now a variety of ways of screening out unwanted calls. Threatening phone calls now seem to be rapidly diminishing with the advent of "caller ID", and even unwanted calls from solicitors can now be largely avoided through a growing number of methods.

The filtered firewall appears to be a common "second line of defense" of both man and nature. But what about a third line of defense needed when we mistakenly allow a terrorist with a forged I.D. card or stolen password to enter? Or even worse, if we actually invite in a "Trojan Horse", only to find that it is filled with the enemy forces. That has been the case with certain e-mail viruses and worms which have been unknowingly sent from the computers of our best friends to us, which would pass through any firewall filter we might set up (at least before it becomes well known and easy to recognize).

Once the enemy has penetrated through our firewall, there are again many options to continue our defense. There are anti-bodies in our blood to attack enemy bacteria, a sliver which has penetrated our skin can be ejected by being flushed out, and cities can be defended by local militia after the national army has failed. Because this article is especially focusing on family protection, let us consider a lesser known security method which the Lord seems to use.

3. A House of Order

The Lord uses another level of security which at first blush does not appear even related to security. The Lord has said,
You have not taught your children light and truth, according to the commandments; and that wicked one hath power, as yet, over you, and this is the cause of your affliction.
And now a commandment I give unto you--if you will be delivered you shall set in order your own house, for there are many things that are not right in your house. (D&C 93:42-43)

The Lord himself follows the commandment to have his house in order:

Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion. (D&C 132:8)

Note that the Lord said "if you will be delivered, you shall set in order your own house. . ." That makes it sound as if having an orderly house can help one to be "delivered" from the power of the "wicked one". But what does an orderly house have to do with security? To answer this, let us again see what we can learn from the field of computer science about the security of computers against attack from computer viruses and worms. Indeed, that is not just a theoretical discussion because such viruses are another kind of real threat to our computers, including our genealogical records.

Computers. If you use e-mail, you almost certainly have received a virus at sometime which had the potential of destroying not only your hard disk, but perhaps that of some of your best friends to whom your computer forwarded the virus without your knowledge. How are such deadly viruses possible? Computer viruses are so named because they are so similar to viruses in nature. They are programs which are transmitted to a host on which they run, and then propagate their damage. But it turns out that some computer operating systems are much less vulnerable to viruses than others, and it has to do with having their "house in order." Let us see if we can learn any principles from computer science which could be applied in our homes.

Windows vs. Linux

Let us now consider two different computer systems and how they handle security issues, to learn what we might be able to apply to our own homes. The Windows operating system is based on DOS. When Bill Gates originally purchased DOS to put on the IBM PC, it had been previously called "QDOS", which stood for "Quick and Dirty Operating System". It was written just to be exactly that, a little operating system to allow file management on a small system. Very little thought had been given to security issues. Anyone with a knowledge of the commands could have access to any files on the machine and have free rein to do as desired, including malicious assaults. Nearly all the worms and viruses rampant today attack the Windows operating system.

In contrast, another operating system was also being developed at Bell Labs to be used for large user groups at universities. It was called UNIX, and it had security designed into it from the very beginning. It is now available for home PC's in a version called Linux. Computers which run Linux are virtually virus free, whereas those with Windows have to fight viruses daily. The reason is not just that those who write viruses attack the most popular platform, because more web pages are served by UNIX or Linux servers than all others combined. The reason for the lack of Linux viruses is that it is very difficult to write a virus for Linux because of its innate security system. It seems worth a few paragraphs to describe it, because we can immediate see similarities in how the Lord uses similar principles in the Priesthood and in nature. We can apply similar principles in the home.

In the Linux operating system there are several basic principles. First there is a master user, (or "super-user") of the system. This is like the father or mother of a family. This user knows the password needed to create, access, change or delete any file in the system. This is similar to a parent having the right to access any part of the home (by key if necessary), including even children's rooms to check for pornography or drugs, if needed. The master user can create other users of the system, each of which has his own password, which is known to the master user. These users can constitute a "group", analogous to a family.

Every file in the system is "owned" by one of the users. That is an extremely important concept in itself. Does everything in your home have a "steward", who is its official caretaker? Or are there many things which no one cares for? Both families and computer groups want to share their resources, so how can that best be accomplished if everything has an owner?

In Linux, there are three levels of users defined for every file, and three levels of permission for it. The three levels of users are 1) the owner of the file, 2) others in his group, and 3) everyone else. The three permissions given to those three kinds of users are the ability to 1) know it exists, 2) to use it, and 3) to change or even delete it.

Again, such a system could be employed in a home. The steward of any item could set the permissions for others to use it. Some things could be freely borrowed with permission, others borrowed without needing to ask, and still others might be kept from others even knowing of their existence (such as firearms). But it could really become complicated if everything in the home had to have a tag on it with permissions explicitly defined. But the creators of UNIX thought of that too.

There are certain large directories with permissions set for all the files in that area. There is an area where all the core programs that run the operating system are kept, and only the master user has permission even to know what is in that area. That would be like a locked safe in that family, and in fact it appears as a folder with a lock on it to other users in Linux. Each user has an area which is his private area, like each child in a family having his own room. Everything in that area belongs to that user, just as everything in a child's room could be understood to be his unless otherwise marked. There are also shared areas on the computer where everyone in the group has permission to know about and to use the files, but not to modify them. That would be like a family room where everyone can use the library there, but not mark up nor destroy the books. Again, everything in the family room, kitchen or other public area, could be understood to be useable by any family member, even though one of the parents would probably be the official steward.

So the reason that viruses are virtually non-existent on Linux is that even if a user gets an e-mail with a virus attached, that user would have to be logged in as the master user to have permission to allow that virus to do its damage. The only viruses which exist on Linux have been written and published as examples to show it is possible, but even they can only be executed with permission of the master user. Hence, the system is inherently much more secure than other systems.

The Lord also uses a system of granting different levels of users different permissions to know about, read, or understand his teachings. For example, certain sacred ceremonies are so sacred that they were no even included in the scriptures, but were available only to certain initiates after the Resurrection of Christ. Other teachings were made publicly available, but the key to understanding them was reserved for only a few. That was the case with the Savior's parables. While the general listener could gain something from the story, only those with "ears to hear" were given the key to the real meaning either from the Holy Ghost or from the Savior explaining them personally (see Mat. 13:10-13). The Lord gave scriptures to be read publicly, but not to be changed (Deut. 4:2, Rev. 22:19).

Thus, our families could perhaps be more secure if we maintain a house of order. Besides having permissions to use things, and a steward to care for them, simply having things in order can be a great asset. As a scoutmaster I learned that "the only thing worse than being unprepared is being prepared and not knowing it." That is, if you need a first aid kit and can't find it, then it does no good. And it is especially demoralizing to find that you did indeed have it all the time, but had misplaced it.

Priesthood Keys

The Lord employs a system with different levels of "users" in the priesthood. First, a man must prove himself worthy even to receive the priesthood at all, for it is the power to act in the name of God. Initially, a priesthood holder has the power to "use" the priesthood, but not to govern it. That is very much like one of the user permission levels of Linux. Later, if he is called to preside over a priesthood quorum, he is given the keys of presiding, meaning that he can control to some extent what duties other members of his quorum will exercise. A priest has the authority to baptize, but may only perform a valid baptism with the premission of the bishop of the area, who holds the keys. This arrangement not only keeps everything in order, it also acts as a security check against an errant priesthood holder performing unauthorized acts.

And just as with a super-user in the UNIX system, if someone is high ranking in the Priesthood and misuses authority, truly tragic consequences can result. An example would be when Thomas B. Marsh, president of the quorum of Twelve Apostles, lied about the activities of the Church to the governor of Missouri. His false testimony led to the Extermination Proclamation which resulted in the deaths of many innocent Church members. A similar example during the Savior's ministry was Judas. One of the Savior's trusted apostles went to the dark side and betrayed his master.

So there are many principles we can learn both from the Lord's creatures and from his Priesthood order, as well as from computer science, about how to improve the security in our homes and in our nation. The first great lesson is to learn from intelligence, especially from the prophet, just what the plans of the adversary are. Then we can build various sorts of protective shields, and finally, keep our homes in order so that we are prepared for what is to come.

By building on the example which the Lord has shown us, we can build our own fortress of righteousness and withstand all the fiery darts of the adversary. We can become like the City of Enoch which was a bastion of strength in the midst of a vast society which was heading toward being destroyed in the Great Deluge. Indeed we can build a New Jerusalem, of which it will be said:

And it shall be called the New Jerusalem, a land of peace, a city of refuge, a place of safety for the saints of the Most High God;
And the glory of the Lord shall be there, and the terror of the Lord also shall be there, insomuch that the wicked will not come unto it, and it shall be called Zion. . . .
And it shall be said among the wicked: Let us not go up to battle against Zion, for the inhabitants of Zion are terrible; wherefore we cannot stand. (D&C 45:66-67, 70)