Security and Human Behavior (SHB) 2020

Today is the second day of the thirteenth Workshop on Security and Human Behavior. It’s being hosted by the University of Cambridge, which in today’s world means we’re all meeting on Zoom.

SHB is a small, annual, invitational workshop of people studying various aspects of the human side of security, organized each year by Alessandro Acquisti, Ross Anderson, and myself. The forty or so attendees include psychologists, economists, computer security researchers, sociologists, political scientists, criminologists, neuroscientists, designers, lawyers, philosophers, anthropologists, business school professors, and a smattering of others. It’s not just an interdisciplinary event; most of the people here are individually interdisciplinary.

Our goal is always to maximize discussion and interaction. We do that by putting everyone on panels, and limiting talks to six to eight minutes, with the rest of the time for open discussion. We’ve done pretty well translating this format to video chat, including using the random breakout feature to put people into small groups.

I invariably find this to be the most intellectually stimulating two days of my professional year. It influences my thinking in many different, and sometimes surprising, ways.

This year’s schedule is here. This page lists the participants and includes links to some of their work. As he does every year, Ross Anderson is liveblogging the talks.

Here are my posts on the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth SHB workshops. Follow those links to find summaries, papers, and occasionally audio recordings of the various workshops. Ross also maintains a good webpage of psychology and security resources.

Posted on June 19, 2020 at 2:09 PM6 Comments


Tatütata June 19, 2020 3:18 PM

… which in today’s world means we’re all meeting on Zoom.

Good for the carbon footprint, bad for the frequent flyer miles. 🙂

vas pup June 20, 2020 2:37 PM

@Bruce and other open-minded bloggers:
Yes, that is very important because human is usually the weakest link in any type of security (IT or other.

In connection to recent events, I’ll provide two link below how proper training of police forces in Germany (for God sake – that is our closest non-Anglo-Saxon ally – and for that reason we have to have pay attention)prevent escalation of violence:

When are German police allowed to use guns?

Why German police officers rarely reach for their guns:

Do we have something to prevent recent death?
Yes, we do. See:

But, people in charge do have (as auto mechanics say in application to engine)late ignition in their brain, i.e. slow mental processing.
Sorry, for bitterness, but truth should be stronger than loyalty.

Clive Robinson June 20, 2020 4:44 PM

@ vas pup,

that is very important because human is usually the weakest link in any type of security

Security is a “state of mind” and it gave rise to secrecy.

If you are of sufficient capability to think forward more than the immediate future, you realise that knowing about and keeping secret good water and food supplies is an important factor in survival.

In fact it’s effectively the first real sign of “inteligence” and it is rather more important than the ability to make tools[1]

Some decades ago now I had a chat with Desmond Morris (of “Naked Ape” fame[2]). He pointed out to me an observation that “Meat eating is social and fruit eating is antisocial”.

That is “hunting” effectively gives rise to social activities where as “gathering” effectively gives rise to not just “secrecy” but also “trust” and “antisocial” issues. Because “gathering” also gives us “tribalism”, which is a form of very “antisocial” behaviour to those outside a group. However it also has very strong eveloutionary advantages to those inside a group. But importantly “gathering” encorages “group memory” of resources that are not just seasonal but annual or longer in durarion that requires the ability to see into the more distant future and plan accordingly. This fed back into hunting and later gave rise to farming and animal keeping. Also the symbiotic relationship we have with many animals[3], where we are effectively dominant and plan their subsetvient futures through to culling them when old either for food or because they are nolonger productive, in some cases such as horses, goats and sheep both.

Tribalism is the primary reason we need “security” because several aspects of it are of vital importance to society thus civilisation. One of which is “group specialisation” that gives rise to “trade” and thus spare capacity to develope skills into craftmanship thus trades and industries. At all stages of that path we need “secrecy” be they “Masters Secrets”, “Guild Secrets”, “Trade Secrets” or “Patents”. But “secrecy” only protects “knowledge” it takes the application of knowledge to physical materials via what we now call “Science and Engineering” to give us the products by which we get “security”. The word “engineering” actually came to us through those who made “Siege Engines and earth works” that were for millennia the tools of both offensive and defensive warfare respectively.

The sad thing is, it appears we need conflict to drive us forward, which is unfortunate now the world is now realy a collection of nation sized villages that should learn that “trade” not “conflict” is the constructive way forward. But either way two things we do know for certain are firstly mankind will continue to communicate in ever more sophisticated ways to try to banish distance, and likewise secrets will need to be kept thus secondly ever more sophisticated security systems will need to be built.

[1] If you think about it “secrecy” is a preserving, defensive strategy, where as “tool making” is a destructive offensive stratagy. Almost always the first uses a force multiplier by a spiecies is to destroy habitat etc for near instant gratification. It requires little or no longer term thinking or planning ability thus it is not realy a sign of intelligence just an ability to learn correlations from cause and effect.

[2] Desmond Morris has led an interesting life and is a bit of a “Renaissance Man”. He’s written a number of books between the end of the 70’s and into the 90’s about observing human behaviours and motivations, and they make fascinating reading. I would sugest anyone thinking about “security and humans” gets copies of them to read.

[3] Few realise there is an eveloutionary advantge to becoming subservient to a more dominant species. Wolves became hunting and domestic dogs[4]

[4] It does not always work out. The Victorians had a spiecies of “working dog” in kitchens. In essence it had been bred to act as a motor for kitchen appliances such as rotisserie and similar that required a constant source of energy. With the invention of cheaper motors the species was nolonger needed and thus was nolonger bred thus became extinct. Almost exactly the same extinction event happened to various breeds of horse, and few of them exist. The cart or dray horse almost went that way but mankinds desire to kill himself by warfare caused them to still be used for pulling larger field artillery pieces even after the Second World War. They only reason they are still around is that some people realise they are worth preserving. If however you look at “big cats” they are very nearly extinct across the board as they have not formed a relationship with mankind, thus they are seen as the enemy and hunted down. But few realise that the cattle we see in fields (cows) are in no way similar to wild cattle, of which there are still a few in the UK. Wild cattle are larger than their farmyard cousins and have the quite dangerous behaviours exhibited by larger species of wild deer families, if you see them in the wild you will realise just how dangerous first hunting them then domesticating them for farming must have been. You can see the same with the smaller and just as ferocious wild boar when compared to farmyard pigs like the “old spot”.

vas pup June 21, 2020 3:01 PM

@Clive: Thank you!
“”trade” not “conflict” is the constructive way forward.”
Agree 100%.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.