Liars and Outliers Review

I’ve long been a fan of Bruce Schneier as evidenced by my collection of his books (Secrets and Lies and Beyond Fear). So was excited to finally get my hands on the latest book Liars and Outliers from him.

So an enlightening read as usual but took longer than previous books for me in part because it was longer and more denser. His previous books were lighter reads—not because they lacked information but this one was dealing with a challenging set of related issues—trust, society, human behavior, politics and security (to name a few).

I’ve said repeatedly I wish the government and in particular the TSA would pay attention to him—they did poll him early on for his views and insights on security but for the most part ignore his wisdom and practical insight.

I like one reviewer’s analogy of the song “Wipe Out” launching a generation of Drummers—Bruce Schneier launches a generation of Cryptographers (actually I think a better analogy would be security experts and enthusiasts).

Liars and Outliers takes you on a journey on what we need in today’s society to thrive without burdening everyone with unnecessary mechanisms that date back hundreds if not thousands of years. Human trust is complex and the book is replete with examples of how this worked and failed in our history and how these systems evolved.

You can’t trust everyone and everyone cannot trust you…so what to do? Trust is the foundation of so many aspects of our society not just security. How do we function when you can’t trust everyone—he weaves in game theory, information technology, vaccination program, exchange mechanisms, evolution and surveillance into a fascinating exposé on the current state of trust. The reference to the Dunbar number is interesting – the number of people we can maintain a meaningful relationship (and trust) with (ruh row…my Facebook friends and Twitter followers exceed that number).

The book progresses to our current world and in particular the threat of terrorism – its no big revelation to some that there is no perfect security against terrorism. But in this instance he demonstrates and supports this position with a body of evidence. It is an economic question and one that if the decision makers would actually pay attention to the facts rather than pandering to pressure and performing what Schneier coined “Security Theater” (Security for effect and display for for actual value) we could save millions if not billions of dollars.

We are in a period of rapid change (maybe this is not a period but an ever accelerating position)? The challenge is attackers and the criminal parts of society can innovate faster – the internet demonstrated this repeatedly. It only takes one individual to crack a code or leak a hack for it to be available to everyone (DeCSS, Jailbreaking – to name a couple). But the challenge to the status quo will not necessarily end in ruin for everyone—in fact it is society’s response to the pressure that will ensure that they don’t. There are no simple answers to complex problems but society is almost a self healing organism and with the right impetus, guidance and direction, provided by Liars and Outliers which should be compulsory reading for all our politicians and law makers we will continue to innovate and develop appropriate solutions and responses…ever faster.

Categories: Liars and Outliers, Text

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.