Essays Tagged "CNN"

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Why Terror Alert Codes Never Made Sense

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • January 28, 2011

The Department of Homeland Security is getting rid of the color-coded threat level system. It was introduced after 9/11, and was supposed to tell you how likely a terrorist attack might be. Except that it never did.

Attacks happened more often when the level was yellow (“significant risk”) than when it was orange (“high risk”). And the one time it was red (“severe risk”), nothing happened. It’s never been blue or green, the two least dangerous levels.

The system has been at yellow for the past four years, and before then the changes seemed more timed to political events than actual terrorist threats. Not that any of this matters. We all ignored the levels because they didn’t tell us anything useful…

Web Snooping Is a Dangerous Move

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • September 29, 2010

On Monday, The New York Times reported that President Obama will seek sweeping laws enabling law enforcement to more easily eavesdrop on the internet. Technologies are changing, the administration argues, and modern digital systems aren’t as easy to monitor as traditional telephones.

The government wants to force companies to redesign their communications systems and information networks to facilitate surveillance, and to provide law enforcement with back doors that enable them to bypass any security measures.

The proposal may seem extreme, but—unfortunately—it’s not unique. Just a few months ago, the governments of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia threatened to ban BlackBerry devices unless the company made eavesdropping easier. China has already built a massive internet surveillance system to better control its citizens…

Threat of "Cyberwar" Has Been Hugely Hyped

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • July 7, 2010

There’s a power struggle going on in the U.S. government right now.

It’s about who is in charge of cyber security, and how much control the government will exert over civilian networks. And by beating the drums of war, the military is coming out on top.

“The United States is fighting a cyberwar today, and we are losing,” said former NSA director—and current cyberwar contractor—Mike McConnell. “Cyber 9/11 has happened over the last ten years, but it happened slowly so we don’t see it,” said former National Cyber Security Division director Amit Yoran. Richard Clarke, whom Yoran replaced, wrote an entire …

Worst-Case Thinking Makes Us Nuts, Not Safe

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • May 12, 2010

At a security conference recently, the moderator asked the panel of distinguished cybersecurity leaders what their nightmare scenario was. The answers were the predictable array of large-scale attacks: against our communications infrastructure, against the power grid, against the financial system, in combination with a physical attack.

I didn’t get to give my answer until the afternoon, which was: “My nightmare scenario is that people keep talking about their nightmare scenarios.”

There’s a certain blindness that comes from worst-case thinking. An extension of the …

Spy Cameras Won't Make Us Safer

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • February 25, 2010

On January 19, a team of at least 15 people assassinated Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh. The Dubai police released video footage of 11 of them. While it was obviously a very professional operation, the 27 minutes of video is fascinating in its banality. Team members walk through the airport, check in and out of hotels, get in and out of taxis. They make no effort to hide themselves from the cameras, sometimes seeming to stare directly into them. They obviously don’t care that they’re being recorded, and—in fact—the cameras didn’t prevent the assassination, nor as far as we know have they helped as yet in identifying the killers…

U.S. Enables Chinese Hacking of Google

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • January 23, 2010

Google made headlines when it went public with the fact that Chinese hackers had penetrated some of its services, such as Gmail, in a politically motivated attempt at intelligence gathering. The news here isn’t that Chinese hackers engage in these activities or that their attempts are technically sophisticated—we knew that already—it’s that the U.S. government inadvertently aided the hackers.

In order to comply with government search warrants on user data, Google created a backdoor access system into Gmail accounts. This feature is what the Chinese hackers exploited to gain access…

Stop the Panic on Air Security

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • January 7, 2010

The Underwear Bomber failed. And our reaction to the failed plot is failing as well, by focusing on the specifics of this made-for-a-movie plot rather than the broad threat. While our reaction is predictable, it’s not going to make us safer.

We’re going to beef up airport security, because Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab allegedly snuck a bomb through a security checkpoint. We’re going to intensively screen Nigerians, because he is Nigerian. We’re going to field full body scanners, because they might have noticed the PETN that authorities say was hidden in his underwear. And so on…

Is Aviation Security Mostly for Show?

  • Bruce Schneier
  • CNN
  • December 29, 2009

Last week’s attempted terror attack on an airplane heading from Amsterdam to Detroit has given rise to a bunch of familiar questions.

How did the explosives get past security screening? What steps could be taken to avert similar attacks? Why wasn’t there an air marshal on the flight? And, predictably, government officials have rushed to institute new safety measures to close holes in the system exposed by the incident.

Reviewing what happened is important, but a lot of the discussion is off-base, a reflection of the fundamentally wrong conception most people have of terrorism and how to combat it…

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.