Schneier Calls for Societal Pressure to Fight Cyber Crime

Security guru Bruce Schneier calls for societal pressure to convince would-be hackers that their actions are not in their own interests

Cyber crime will not be resolved with technology alone, security guru Bruce Schneier warned at the RSA conference in London today. Societal pressure is also need to discourage people from becoming cyber criminals, he argued.

Security experts will always be catching up with criminals when it comes to technological exploits, argued Schneier, who is BT’s chief security technology officer. “Attackers have a natural advantage because they can make use of innovations faster and have no procurement pressure or institutional inertia,” he said.

Society therefore has a role to play in discouraging individuals from becoming ‘defectors’, Schneier argued. There are four potenital mechanisms for this, he explained.

Two of these, morals and reputation, stem from humanity’s social nature as a species. “Most of us don’t steal, not because it’s against the law, but because it’s wrong and induces guilt, shame and awareness,” he says. “Being snubbed for bad behaviour and ostracised for bad behaviour keeps a lot of us cooperative, and we are very much in tune as to what others do.”

Laws and sanctions make the third societal pressure to dissuade ‘defectors’, and security systems are the fourth.

“We will do much better against not just crime or fraud but any other defection if we engage people’s moral or reputational systems and get laws working right before building the firewalls and everything else,” he says. “We’re much better when we look at this entire space instead of just the security systems.”

There will never be a complete absence of defectors, Schneier added, and in fact they a necessary component of society. “We as a group benefit from the fact that some people don’t follow group norms,” he said.

For this reason, he says, cyber crime will never be truly eliminated. “There always is going to be some amount of spam, some amount of burglary, some amount of credit card fraud in any system,” he said. “As the number of defectors decreases, the value of being a defector increases, so people will switch, so there’s going to be an equilibrium.”

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.