Code Cracker Hot

By Sobha Menon
The Economic Times
March 18, 2007

By now, Bruce Schneier is reconciled to the fact that most people will always be interested in him first and foremost because he's been mentioned in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code. Sceptical, aren't you, about the 'reconciled' bit? Schneier's own achievements are no less striking actually. Or else, why would he be in the best-seller for that matter.

Founder and chief technology officer of BT Counterpane, which was acquired by BT in 2005, Schneier is a security technologist and cryptographer. BT Counterpane provides managed security services to medium and big enterprises. With data security being one of the chief concerns in the world today and some of the biggest crimes shifting gradually from the real to the virtual world, Schneier is in one of the most hot and happening areas of information technology — and he's considered a security guru.

Credited with designing some popular encryption algorithms, such as Blowfish and Twofish, Schneier sees BT's acquisition of his company as "an opportunity to get involved in more research by working more in their labs and getting involved with BT's service offerings". It also gives him the opportunity to travel much more than before and work in different countries.

No, he's no serious, geeky type who's left a bit of his mind back in BT's labs to mull over a new algorithm. Talking of BT, Schneier tells you that it may be the third biggest tech company in the world, but to the American public it draws a blank. So braving BT's disapproval, Schneier explains to all that BT stands for British Telecom, lest they presume it's "Bankers' Trust", he explains with a chuckle. Then with a straight face, he claims he too had to look up the company on Wikipedia when BT approached him. He was having good fun alright pulling the legs of BT officials present.

For a techie, Schneier is remarkably articulate, witty, and enjoys a freewheeling conversation — he also quite frankly tells you he thinks he writes "better than Dan Brown", but he wouldn't care to write a fictional piece. There's too much happening in his area of expertise and so there's no dearth of topics for him.

He's already an author of seven books — the latest being Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World. Another book, Secret and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World, has sold over 150,000 copies and Applied Cryptography is now into its second edition and available in five languages. Schneier also writes regularly for Forbes, New York Times, Washington Post and Wired. Most of Schneier writings are anything but cryptic — his target audience being mainly the lay reader, he tries to get them to understand technology better.

But he concedes that a better understanding of technology and security issues need not make implementation easy. "Security needs to be made easy, right now it's very hard to use," Schneier says. And a good, secure system is all-important in today's scenario. "The big challenge in security today comes from crimes such as phishing and pharming, zombies taking over systems from a remote, etc.

That's different from what we faced earlier —hacking, defacing of web pages. Today there's lots of money and real criminals involved — not just a bunch of teen hackers. And that's a serious challenge," says Schneier. Indeed, these are times when there's talk of terrorism driving internet crime and the money involved being bigger than that in drugs.

On his second visit to India, Schneier said he was looking forward to eating "authentic Indian food" and was quite sick of the versions he got in the US. Schneier is something of a foodie and writes restaurant reviews in the Minneapolis Star Tribune along with his wife. So what does he like to eat? "Good food."

And now the big question — how on earth did he manage to find his way into Dan Brown's book and does he know the author? He's probably answered this one, a zillion times: No, he doesn't know Dan Brown. "He must have done some research and found out," Schneier says. He admits candidly that he was extremely excited when he found out. Someone had already told him that he'd been mentioned in the book, so he picked up his copy while travelling on a flight. "When I found my name, I nudged the person sitting next to me and said, 'Hey, that's me.' Now, it's something that follows me wherever I go," Schneier says. It's certainly the ultimate recognition.

earlier story: Global Cyber Cop Hits Town, Says Hacking Is Passe
later story: Expert Warns of On-line Identity Theft
back to News and Interviews

Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Co3 Systems, Inc..