Interview with Bruce Schneier

I’ve mentioned Bruce Schneier, and his blog, Schneier on Security, a number of times in discussing various security issues (and there is always a link to his blog in the sidebar).  He is one of the most thoughtful observers of the security scene, and is the author of several books, including Applied Cryptography, Secrets and Lies, and Beyond Fear (all of which, by the way, I recommend highly).  He has just posted the text of a recent interview related to his latest book, Liars and Outliers.  The interview, which first appeared at “The Browser”, is interesting because it includes brief discussions of five other books, chosen by Schneier, that are related to his theme of “trust”:

  • The Penguin and the Leviathan, by Yochai Benkler 
  • The Folly of Fools, by Robert Trivers
  • The Murderer Next Door, by David M. Buss
  • The Better Angels of Our Nature, by Steven Pinker
  • Braintrust, by Patricia S. Churchland

Schneier points out that we live in a society that could not possibly exist without a great deal of trust.

Security exists to facilitate trust. Trust is the goal, and security is how we enable it. Think of it this way: As members of modern society, we need to trust all sorts of people, institutions and systems. We have to trust that they’ll treat us honestly, won’t take advantage of us and so on – in short, that they’ll behave in a trustworthy manner.

Trust has always been a fundamental part of human society.  What is somewhat different today is the extent and complexity of our trust relationships, and the degree to which they are intertwined via technology.

Today we need to trust more people than ever before, further away – whether politically, ethnically or socially – than ever before. We need to trust larger corporations, more diverse institutions and more complicated systems. We need to trust via computer networks. This all makes trust, and inducing trust, harder.

He explains that his chief concerns about privacy and security are not about organized crime or terrorism; societal pressures do a fairly good job of ensuring they exist only at the margins of society.  He believes a bigger danger is that we will get the rules wrong when we try to deal with large, legitimate, powerful entities.

The global financial crisis was not a result of criminals, it was perpetrated by legitimate financial institutions pursuing their own self-interest. The major threats against our privacy are not from criminals, they’re from corporations trying to more accurately target advertising. The most significant threat to the freedom of the Internet is from large entertainment companies, in their misguided attempt to stop piracy. And the cyberwar rhetoric is likely to cause more damage to the Internet than criminals could ever dream of.

Getting these trade-offs wrong has the potential to cause serious damage.

The whole interview is well worth a read, and the books he selected sound most interesting, too.

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