On the Wikipedia page of threat (in textbooks too) various definitions are given where almost all agree in defining a threat as a "circumstance or event".

I'm having trouble understanding the subtle difference between event and circumstance. What is an example of an event that is not a circumstance? And what is an example of a circumstance that is not an event?

  • 1
    An existing vulnerability in a product is a circumstance. It is a threat even if currently nobody exploits it since it might get exploited in the future. Someone attacking a system is an event, which is clearly a threat too. Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 5:19

1 Answer 1



  • a condition, fact, or event accompanying, conditioning, or determining another
  • a piece of evidence that indicates the probability or improbability of an event
  • the sum of essential and environmental factors

The connotation here is that a "circumstance" is the "pre-condition" for a hazard.

So, an unlocked door is a circumstance. Someone walking through the door without authorisation is an event. In both cases, nothing bad has happened yet. But both represent a threat because they both proceed loss.

Other circumstances that are threats:

  • unpatched systems
  • distracted users
  • untested backups
  • Makes sense. What about "circumstance or event" used in the definition of the four kinds of threat consequences, based on RFC 4949? Aren't they just events? What makes them circumstances?
    – gomd
    Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 19:19
  • You can think of them as "pre-events".
    – schroeder
    Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 9:48

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