Entries Tagged "history of security"

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Isaac Asimov on Security Theater

A great find:

In his 1956 short story, “Let’s Get Together,” Isaac Asimov describes security measures proposed to counter a terrorist threat:

“Consider further that this news will leak out as more and more people become involved in our countermeasures and more and more people begin to guess what we’re doing. Then what? The panic might do us more harm than any one TC bomb.”

The Presidential Assistant said irritably, “In Heaven’s name, man, what do you suggest we do, then?”

“Nothing,” said Lynn. “Call their bluff. Live as we have lived and gamble that They won’t dare break the stalemate for the sake of a one-bomb head start.”

“Impossible!” said Jeffreys. “Completely impossible. The welfare of all of Us is very largely in my hands, and doing nothing is the one thing I cannot do. I agree with you, perhaps, that X-ray machines at sports arenas are a kind of skin-deep measure that won’t be effective, but it has to be done so that people, in the aftermath, do not come to the bitter conclusion that we tossed our country away for the sake of a subtle line of reasoning that encouraged donothingism.”

This Jeffreys guy sounds as if he works for the TSA.

Posted on October 3, 2011 at 1:20 PMView Comments

Medieval Tally Stick Discovered in Germany


The well-preserved tally stick was used in the Middle Ages to count the debts owed by the holder in a time when most people were unable to read or write.

“Debts would have been carved into the stick in the form of small notches. Then the stick would have been split lengthways, with the creditor and the borrower each keeping a half,” explained Hille.

The two halves would then be put together again on the day repayment was due in order to compare them, with both sides hoping that they matched.

Note the security built into this primitive contract system. Neither side can cheat — alter the notches — because if they do, the two sides won’t match. I wonder what the dispute resolution system was: what happened when the two sides didn’t match.

EDITED TO ADD (5/14): In comments, lollardfish answers my question: “One then gets accused of fraud in court. In most circumstances, local power/reputation wins in fraud cases, since it’s not about finding of fact but who do you trust.”

Posted on May 10, 2011 at 1:47 PMView Comments

Authenticating the Authenticators

This is an interesting read:

It was a question that changed his life, and changed mine, and may have changed — even saved — all of ours by calling attention to flaws in our nuclear command and control system at the height of the Cold War. It was a question that makes Maj. Hering an unsung hero of the nuclear age. A question that came from inside the system, a question that has no good answer: How can any missile crewman know that an order to twist his launch key in its slot and send a thermonuclear missile rocketing out of its silo­a nuke capable of killing millions of civilians­is lawful, legitimate, and comes from a sane president?

Any chain of authentication ultimately rests on trust; there’s no way around it.

Posted on March 25, 2011 at 12:22 PMView Comments

Vigilant Citizens: Then vs. Now

This is from Atomic Bombing: How to Protect Yourself, published in 1950:

Of course, millions of us will go through our lives never seeing a spy or a saboteur going about his business. Thousands of us may, at one time or another, think we see something like that. Only hundreds will be right. It would be foolish for all of us to see enemy agents lurking behind every tree, to become frightened of our own shadows and report them to the F.B.I.

But we are citizens, we might see something which might be useful to the F.B.I. and it is our duty to report what we see. It is also our duty to know what is useful to the F.B.I. and what isn’t.


If you think your neighbor has “radical” views — that is none of your or the F.B.I.’s business. After all, it is the difference in views of our citizens, from the differences between Jefferson and Hamilton to the differences between Truman and Dewey, which have made our country strong.

But if you see your neighbor — and the views he expresses might seem to agree with yours completely — commit an act which might lead you to suspect that he might be committing espionage, sabotage or subversion, then report it to the F.B.I.

After that, forget about it. Mr. Hoover also said: “Do not circulate rumors about subversive activities, or draw conclusions from information you furnish the F.B.I. The data you possess might be incomplete or only partially accurate. By drawing conclusions based on insufficient evidence grave injustices might result to innocent persons.”

In other words, you might be wrong. In our system, it takes a court, a trial and a jury to say a man is guilty.

It would be nice if this advice didn’t seem as outdated as the rest of the book.

Posted on July 1, 2010 at 1:05 PMView Comments

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.