Schneier: Bad News Is Good News, Not So for Security

While the media bombards consumers with frightening stories, discussions about security are thwarted by the failure of language to separate the “feeling” and “reality” of security, says security guru Bruce Schneier.

Schneier, author of Applied Cryptography and his most recent book Beyond Fear, reckons there is a fundamental problem with the way humans think about security. And its roots can be drawn back to a failure of language.

“‘Security’ is a complicated word,” Schneier told at linuxconf08.

“You can feel secure and there’s the reality of security—how secure you are. And they’re different things. You can feel secure even though you’re not and you can be secure even though you don’t realise it,” he said.

The problem in today’s media-intensive world is that consumers are repeatedly bombarded with coverage of out of the ordinary or newsworthy events, such as child- kidnappings or terrorism. This ultimately distorts people’s view of the world, according to Schneier.

“When something rare happens it’s talked about endlessly. It’s repeated again and again so our brains are fooled in to thinking it’s or common because it’s what psychologists call “available”—the memories are more available. And one of our mental short cuts is to think of things that are more available as more common,” he said.

Although the media’s treatment of events could be held responsible for this confusion between perception and reality, there is another element at play—language, or rather, its failure to accommodate the difference between the “feeling” and “reality” of security.

“In effect we have two very different concepts mapped on the same word. And this makes a lot of conversations about the feeling and reality of security hard to have because our language fails us,” he said.

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Categories: Recorded Interviews, Video

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.