Bruce Schneier Says Government Involvement in Coding Is Coming

Security expert Schneier is realistic about the dangers posed by putting software in all types of appliances

Schneier, present at the RSA Conference, said that until now everyone had this "special right" to code the world as they saw fit. "My guess is we're going to lose that right because it's too dangerous to give it to a bunch of techies," he added, according to The Register.

His words came after accepting an observation made by Marc Andreessen six years ago that software was eating the world. "As everything turns into a computer, computer security becomes everything security," Schneier said, to give his previous statement some context.

A connected world is great but dangerous

As he likened the Internet to a giant robot, one capable of affecting the physical world just as it affects the virtual one, the threat becomes much more real. Case in point, software that once crashed apps can now crash cars, planes, medical devices, appliances and other connected devices as the world becomes more and more interconnected.

"What we're going to see is increased government involvement. Because that's what happens in the world of dangerous things," Schneier said.

To that end, Schneier announces that he plans to call for a new US government agency to oversee the arising issues that come from putting software in everything.

Attacks on IoT devices have grown considerably over the past few years, and they will only continue to do so, experts say, because more and more such devices are bought.

The good and the bad about govt involvement

While Schneier talks about the responsibility that comes with coding for a whole new set of devices, making them vulnerable to attacks as well, there are further problems that arise with the involvement of the government in the way technology is created.

The Trump administration has given clear signals that it plans to become more involved in this matter, and not in a way that people will rejoice about. In particular, it seems that building backdoors into encryption software is something that the administration wants.

Clues about this have come in waves. One of them was the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, who believes that encryption is great, as long as authorities have a way to break it.

Another indication that this seems to be the plan for the future is a statement made just recently by former NSA chief General Keith Alexander, who oversaw the agency during the Snowden leak. Alexander said that he left a White House meeting on cybersecurity impressed with Donald Trump.

"What I saw was a president who was now very focused and asked each person questions, listened to them, weighed what they said and how they said it... took in advice, commented back. That's the president our nation needs—somebody who is looking how to solve cybersecurity issues... He understood they're important, that we've got to fix government, got to get government and industry to work together," Alexander said at the same RSA Conference.

Those last few lines about having the government and industry work together to solve cybersecurity issues can be a small indication of the involvement the Trump administration wants to have in this whole situation. Trump himself has offered his opinion on one particular matter - the feud between Apple and the FBI over the encrypted phone of the San Bernardino shooter, where he blasted Apple for not giving the authorities access to the data. Of course, it didn't matter that the phones were made in such a way that not even Apple could decrypt them.

The idea of having the government collaborate with the tech industry over how software is coded isn't necessarily a bad one, but it needs to have some limits; how encryption works is one of those limits.

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Photo of Bruce Schneier by Per Ervland.

Schneier on Security is a personal website. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of IBM Resilient.