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Bruce Schneier's book: The Internet has created 'the largest trust gap' in history

'Liars and Outliers' takes swings at NSA, U.S. government, Facebook, Microsoft and others

By , Network World
July 10, 2012 10:43 AM ET
Bruce Schneier

Network World - Technology, often made possible through networks, grants new powers to communicate and learn, to travel, to make decisions of critical importance, to make things, provide services, sell them and buy them. In a modern society, it's all done against a backdrop of trust not only that the technology is reliable and secure, but that the people involved in every process, whether we meet them face-to-face or not, are trustworthy. That trust is largely created by societal pressures -- ranging from codes of moral behavior and laws, plus worries about reputation, for example. 

Trust is at the heart of security, argues Bruce Schneier in his latest book, "Liars and Outliers." But the Internet, in particular, is making it easier and easier for the liars— -- he criminals, the attackers, the cheats and the "defectors" from societal norms of trust -- to thrive. And in his book, Schneier doesn't let corporations and government off the hook, either, calling them some of the biggest "defectors" of all from trust.

MORE FROM SCHNEIER: Stuxnet attack by U.S. a 'dangerous' and 'destabilizing' course of action

Blending philosophy, technical concepts, even taking up religious precepts like "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," Schneier's latest book, which he'll be discussing during a talk at the upcoming Black Hat Conference in Las Vegas, may confound the security techies there if their world starts and stops with the latest hacker exploit.

But in "Liars and Outliers," Schneier, one of the few technical security experts of our time showing the inclination to take on the big questions about the impact of technology on society, makes it clear why he thinks why the Internet is leading to "the largest trust gap in our history."

"In prehistoric times, the scale was smaller, and our emergent social pressures -- moral and reputational -- worked well because they evolved for the small-scale societies of the day," Schneier writes in his book. "As civilizations emerged and technology advanced, we invented institutions to help deal with the societal dilemmas on the larger scale of our growing societies. We also invented security technologies to further enhance societal pressures. We needed to trust both those institutions and the security systems that increasingly affected our lives."

We gradually have expected life to be better, with less disease or accidental death. But the acceleration of technology is taking security and trust problems to a higher degree than ever before, Schneier argues.

"In particular, the revolutionary social and political changes brought about by information technology are causing security and trust problems to a whole new degree. We've already seen several manifestations of this: the global financial crisis, international terrorism, and cyberspace fraud. We've seen music and movie piracy grow from minor annoyance to an international problem due to the ease of distributing pirated content on the Internet. We've seen Internet worms progress from minor annoyances to criminal tools to military-grade weapons that cause real-world damage, like the Internet worm Stuxnet, the first military-grade cyberweapon the public has seen."

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