The year 2021 in IT metaphors

Besides cybersecurity being a team sport.

(Getty Images)

Perhaps you’ve heard that cybersecurity is a “team sport.” It’s one of the most common reminders in the IT world, with invocations of collaboration, weak links and “blocking and tackling” activities like regular patching and routine risk assessments.

It’s also a line that’s been offered by tech officials from the smallest local communities to the highest rungs of the federal government: No less an authority than Gen. Paul Nakasone, the head of U.S. Cyber Command, explained his version of the old saying with a Dec. 6 opinion piece in Defense News.

“The scope and scale of the problem are too large for any single organization to tackle alone,” Nakasone wrote. “The private and public sectors, including state and local colleagues, must increasingly rely on and complement one another to combat these threats and improve collective defense.

Metaphors and analogies work because they convey a complex topic using familiar ideas. In his 2010 memoir “On Writing,” Stephen King wrote that metaphors let the reader “see an old thing in a new and vivid way.”

And in 2021, state and local IT officials offered up those lines well beyond the familiar scope of cybersecurity and sports. Unemployment insurance and other benefits systems were likened to pizza-delivery apps. Modernization efforts were compared to home improvement and laboratory monsters. And security wasn’t always a team sport — sometimes it was a bottomless feast, other times, something much more dangerous.

That doesn’t necessarily mean they were all spot-on. “When a simile or metaphor doesn’t work,” King wrote, “the results are sometimes funny and sometimes embarrassing.”

Here are a few of the IT metaphors from the past year that stood out.