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Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive Hardcover – Illustrated, February 14, 2012
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Q&A with Bruce Schneier, Author of Liars and Outliers
That is the right question to ask, since there are many different definitions of trust floating around. The trust I am writing about isn't personal, it's societal. By my definition, when we trust a person, an institution, or a system, we trust they will behave as we expect them to. It's more consistency or predictability than intimacy. And if you think about it, this is exactly the sort of trust our complex society runs on. I trust airline pilots, hotel clerks, ATMs, restaurant kitchens, and the company that built the computer I'm writing these answers on.
What makes people trustworthy?
That's the key question the book tackles. Most people are naturally trustworthy, but some are not. There are hotel clerks who will steal your credit card information. There are ATMs that have been hacked by criminals. Some restaurant kitchens serve tainted food. There was even an airline pilot who deliberately crashed his Boeing 767 into the Atlantic Ocean in 1999. Given that there are people who are naturally inclined to be untrustworthy, how does society keep their damage to a minimum? We use what I call societal pressures: morals and reputation are two, laws are another, and security systems are a fourth. Basically, it's all coercion. We coerce people into behaving in a trustworthy manner because society will fall apart if they don't.
You introduce the idea of defectors--those who don't follow "the rules." What are defectors?
One of the central metaphors of the book is the Prisoner's Dilemma, which sets up the conflict between the interests of a group and the interests of individuals within the group. Cooperating--or acting in a trustworthy manner--sometimes means putting group interest ahead of individual interest. Defecting means acting in one's self-interest as opposed to the group interest. To put it in concrete terms: we are collectively better off if no one steals, but I am individually better off if I steal other people's stuff. But if everyone did that, society would collapse. So we need societal pressures to induce cooperation--to prevent people from stealing.
There are two basic types of defectors. In this example, the first are people who know stealing is wrong, but steal anyway. The second are people who believe that, in some circumstances, stealing is right. Think of Robin Hood, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Or Jean Valjean from Les Miserables, who stole to feed his starving family.
Why are some defectors good for society?
Cooperators are people who follow the formal or informal rules of society. Defectors are people who, for whatever reason, break the rules. That definition says nothing about the absolute morality of the society or its rules. When society is in the wrong, it's defectors who are in the vanguard for change. So it was defectors who helped escaped slaves in the antebellum American South. It's defectors who are agitating to overthrow repressive regimes in the Middle East. And it's defectors who are fueling the Occupy Wall Street movement. Without defectors, society stagnates.
What major news stories of the past decade were triggered by failed trust? How can we prevent these failures in the future?
The story I had in most in mind while writing the book was the global financial crisis of a few years ago, where a handful of people cheated the system to their own advantage. Those were particularly newsworthy defectors; but if you start looking, you can see defectors and the effects of their defection everywhere: in corrupt politicians, special interests subverting the tax system, file sharers downloading music and movies without paying for them, and so on. The key characteristic is a situation where the group interest is in opposition to someone's self-interest, and people have been permitted to follow their own self-interest to the greater harm of the group.
What makes Liars and Outliers so relevant in today's society?
As our systems--whether social systems like Facebook or political systems like Congress--get more complex, the destructive potential of defectors becomes greater. To use another term from the book, the scope of defection increases with more technology. This means that the societal pressures we traditionally put in place to limit defections no longer work, and we need to rethink security. It's easy to see this in terms of terrorism: one of the reasons terrorists are so scary today is that they can do more damage to society than the terrorists of 20 years ago could--and future technological developments will make the terrorists of 20 years from now scarier still.
What do you hope readers will take away from reading Liars and Outliers?
I can do no better than quote from the first chapter: "This book represents my attempt to develop a full-fledged theory of coercion and how it enables compliance and trust within groups. My goal is to rephrase some of those questions and provide a new framework for analysis. I offer new perspectives, and a broader spectrum of what's possible. Perspectives frame thinking, and sometimes asking new questions is the catalyst to greater understanding. It’s my hope that this book can give people an illuminating new framework with which to help understand the world."
"This book will appeal not only to customers interested in computer security but also on the idea of security and trust as a whole in society." (The Bookseller, 16th December 2011)
"This book should be read by anyone in a leadership role, whether they're in the corporate or political sphere... an easy read and the ideas and thoughts are profound." (Naked Security, February 2012)
"By concentrating on the human angle and packing the book with real world examples he has successfully stretched its appeal outside that of the security specialist to the more general reader." (E & T Magazine, March 2012)
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This innovative systems perspective of trust as it relates to security in general represents a profound breakthrough which should have considerable influence on discussions and debate within the security community. The detailed analysis of how pressures, incentives, and penalties influence individuals and organizations is extremely useful for understanding potential and probable results of various policy and control initiatives.
Schneier also provides an excellent explanation for why criminal organizations are inherently more agile and adaptable than business and law enforcement agencies. This inherent agility is very apparent in computer and network security where the pace of new exploits and attack vectors at times seems to overwhelm traditional defense mechanisms.
The conclusions drawn in this book describe the importance of trust and how it will not diminish over time in the future. Schneier deftly summarizes how the trust framework must be well understood when designing and implementing societal pressures and how "perfect security" is an absolute illusion. While no specific policy recommendations are offered, this book should provide foundational knowledge for fueling effective and informed debate in the security arena.
Moreover, this book demonstrates that any choice you make antagonizes someone, be it a person, an institution, or society in general. Many times, your actions will bear a cost that won't fall on you directly, but may very well increase the cost to everyone. Douglas Hofstadter in one of his books creates a multi-person Prisoner's Dilemma, and asked people who didn't know each other to choose to defect or cooperate. Most, not seeing the cost of their actions, decide to defect. Liars and Outliers takes this to multiple levels, so it's not just people playing against each other, but multiple strata of society, and the pressures each one exerts in its attempt to coerce you to comply with their preference for your actions.
Why 4 stars instead of 5? I first purchased this book from Amazon as a Kindle digital format, and the diagrams do not fit well with the text; many times, the text mentions a graph that doesn't appear until two or three pages later. It's disruptive to have to page back and forth to catch the drift of what's being said. I've since acquired a hardcover version of the book (signed by the author); I can't comment on its presentation since I keep it pristine as a collector's item.
I now have a greater understanding of the fundamentals that tie society together and keep it functional, safe and secure. The fundamental base is trust. If you have interests in security and sociology, then you're in for a fascinating read. If you're in any kind of security profession, a social researcher, a college student studying social sciences (or anything really), a corporate leader, or someone involved in public policy decisions: This book changes how you view the vibrant world that's before your eyes.
Top international reviews
This book is divided in four parts. In the first part Schneier brings the reader up to par with the current state of the 'science of trust', as he calls it. In these chapters he talks about the way human beings and some animals cooperate, how cooperation developed in their respective species, what altruism is, and what a society is. This first section of the book ends with an interesting set of societal dilemmas and - most importantly - a framework by which each of these dilemmas can be understood. In this framework Schneier puts the societal (or group) interest over against the interest of the party (or person) that wants to defect.
Part two of the book presents four pressures influencing every societal dilemma, namely societal, moral, reputational and institutional. Each one of these parts of this model of trust is described in detail and explained through examples. This part of the book ends with an overview of the topic of security and how it relates towards these pressures. In this chapter, Schneier shows once again how good and well-balanced security is necessary to counterbalance the different forms of trust. He also describes how security influences each of the four pressures.
The first two parts of the book are quite theoretical and systemic, but legible and understandable nevertheless. In the third section Schneier takes his models into the real world, to see how they fit in. He does so from the perspective of competing interests within organizations (each group of people), corporations (different from individual people because they're no people with personal interests), and institutions (governmental groups, with their particular interests). What has kept with me after reading these chapters is that each 'society' has its own interests and that these interests do not always fit in with the interests of others. I believe that dissecting societal dilemmas through Schneier's model of trust really helps to gain a fuller understanding of the weight and content of the forces at work.
The fourth and final part of the book contains three chapters with conclusions. For some part, these chapters are a repetition of the previous chapters. They contain, however, a kind of counterbalance to the well-reasoned and rational model of trust Schneier presented, because of the concept of the human psychology that sometimes gives us the desire to do things that are not so reasonable. Moreover, he describes some of the technological advances that have been made and will be made, and - more importantly - how both cooperators and defectors make use of technology. This section also holds a fiery speech in favor of well-reasoned, community-based, transparant, and general forms of security technology.
In his last chapter Schneier once again makes sure that we understand that security is not something do once and then forget, it's a process that needs to be readjusted all the time. It's also important to keep in mind that society both needs cooperators and defectors (or outliers), since the latter group is able to foster innovation, that can be used to improve society for all of us.
It does not disappoint. Covering the evolution of security mechanisms, from the very small scale of a few personal friends up to the global institutions to which we trust much of our lives, Bruce examines in depth how we choose whether to trust or distrust other people and organisations, and how we decide how much regulation and technology is required to keep enough of them trustworthy enough for our societies to function.
As a reader of Bruce's blog on schneier,com, I thought I would be reading things I'd already learnt, but I was wrong. There's a lot of new stuff here, and perhaps the best and most-lasting aspect is the presentation of a structure and language for talking about trust - I find I'm using the terms from Liars and Outliers intuitively any time I think about security.
There's a good exposition of how our security systems fail, and what must be done to avoid such failures, which I think makes it essential reading for any company director or politician.
You need two copies of this book - one to keep on your shelf to read, and re-read, and one to give to your (least-) favourite policymaker.
Recommended for pretty much anyone willing to kill a few thousand neurons trying to understand why people act like they do, instead of just defaulting to black-and-white, good-and-bad-guy answer
Ich weiß nicht genau was ich erwarte habe, aber mehr als eine solche Aneinanderreihung von Beispielen war es definitiv.
Inhaltlich ist das Buch mit tollen und interessanten Einsichten gespickt und sofern man damit leben kann Absätze häufig nur quer zu lesen auch ein empfehlenswertes. Für mich ist der Schreibstil leider nichts gewesen.
The author has read widely in psychology, behavioural economics and the other sexy new research fields. It's hard to see how he could write such a boring book, but he's managed it. With bullet points that go on forever, repetition, clichéd anecdotes, tables that reveal nothing and flow diagrams that obfuscate more than they illuminate, reading this book is like listening to the most tedious sociology lecturer or a third rate management consultant.
I struggled to the end, reluctant to think I'd wasted my money and recognise that I'd learnt nothing new.
However, Schneier's exposition on "the trust that society needs to thrive" left me a little disappointed. My problem with this book is that it is a straightforward (albeit, excellent) exposition on trust & cooperation; nothing more. There is no radical manifesto describing how society might better blend its cooperative instinct with technology to achieve the optimum balance of cooperation and defection; thus, it's not clear what this work adds to the subject's body of knowledge.
This shortcoming is redeemed by Schneier's easy style and comprehensive coverage of the topics one expects (The Prisoner's Dilemma, The Hawk/Dove Model, and The Red Queen Effect). Moreover, Schneier explores in some depth the societal pressures that help to maintain defection at tolerable levels and considers how technology both helps and hinders society's effort to maintain cooperation. It is this, perhaps, that differentiates this book from others that address the same issues and makes it worth reading. Furthermore, the material is well researched and comprehensively referenced throughout and delivered with Schneier's trademark clarity. Whilst it may lack a certain novelty, the subject is lucidly presented and accessible: I can think of no more comprehensive introduction to the subject than Liars & Outliers - certainly, a good place to start.
Je ne peux qu'inciter à suivre son blog (ou sa newsletter, même contenu): c'est une perle d'anecdotes, de mise mise en perspective, et de bon sens. En cherchant des solutions de sécurité informatique, Schneier nous conduit à analyser notre comportement en tant qu'individu et membres de groupes. Pour celles et ceux qui veulent penser plus loin que le bout de leur clavier.
Auf dem Umschlag das Zitat zur Person: "Das, was in der Security-Industrie einem Rockstar am nächsten kommt." Das spiegelt sowohl die positiven als auch die negativen Aspekte dieses Buchs wieder. Als Rockstar kommt er überall an - das Buch ist lesbar, sehr verständlich und gut strukturiert. Das erreicht er aber, wie bei seinen vorherigen Publikationen auch, durch sehr ausführliche Schilderungen und teilweise ermüdende Wiederholungen. Meiner Meinung nach wäre das Thema passender in einem konzisen 50 Seiten-Papier abgehandelt worden als in Buchform.
Dennoch, die Darstellung des Vertrauensproblems, die von Schneier vorgenommene Strukturierung desselben und die Einbeziehung diverser, teilweise unvorhergesehener Rahmenparameter machen das Buch erwartungsgemäss lesenswert - wie immer bei Schneier: eine interessante Sicht auf die Dinge. Wobei dem potentiellen Leser klar sein muss: das Buch ist eher analytischer Natur als dass es Lösungen aufzeigt, und das ist dem Thema auch angemessen. Auch das eine Kernaussage des Buches: ohne umfassendes Problemverständnis muss jeder Lösungsansatz scheitern; und dieses Buch agiert eindeutig auf der Problemverständnis-Seite.
Ein Stern Abzug wegen der erwähnten Überlänge und Wiederholung - dennoch inhaltlich top und klare Kaufempfehlung.
das neue Buch von Bruce Schneier ist wie immer und Erwartungsgemäß hervorragend.
Leider ist in der aktuellen Fassung des Buches des Quellenverzeichnis falsch gedruckt. Habe mich an den hilfreichen Kundenservice gewandt und werde informiert sobald die richtige Edition (Quellen okay) verfügbar sind.