Schneier: Bad news is good news, not so for security

Schneier: Bad news is good news, not so for security

Summary: While the media bombards consumers with frightening stories, discussions about security are thwarted by the failure of language to separate the "feeling" and "reality" of security, says security guru Bruce Schneier.

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While the media bombards consumers with frightening stories, discussions about security are thwarted by the failure of language to separate the "feeling" and "reality" of security, says security guru Bruce Schneier.

Schneier, author of Applied Cryptography and his most recent book Beyond Fear, reckons there is a fundamental problem with the way humans think about security. And its roots can be drawn back to a failure of language.

"'Security' is a complicated word," Schneier told ZDnet.com.au at linuxconf08.

"You can feel secure and there's the reality of security -- how secure you are. And they're different things. You can feel secure even though you're not and you can be secure even though you don't realise it," he said.

The problem in today's media-intensive world is that consumers are repeatedly bombarded with coverage of out of the ordinary or newsworthy events, such as child- kidnappings or terrorism. This ultimately distorts people's view of the world, according to Schneier.

"When something rare happens it's talked about endlessly. It's repeated again and again so our brains are fooled in to thinking it's or common because it's what psychologists call "available" -- the memories are more available. And one of our mental short cuts is to think of things that are more available as more common," he said.

Although the media's treatment of events could be held responsible for this confusion between perception and reality, there is another element at play -- language, or rather, its failure to accommodate the difference between the "feeling" and "reality" of security.

"In effect we have two very different concepts mapped on the same word. And this makes a lot of conversations about the feeling and reality of security hard to have because our language fails us," he said.

Topics: Security, Linux, Open Source, Tech Industry

Munir Kotadia

About Munir Kotadia

Munir first became involved with online publishing in 1998 when he joined ZDNet UK and later moved into print publishing as Chief Reporter for IT Week, part of ZDNet UK, a weekly trade newspaper targeted at Enterprise IT managers. He later moved back into online publishing as Senior News Reporter for ZDNet UK.

Munir was recognised as Australia's Best Technology Columnist at the 5th Annual Sun Microsystems IT Journalism Awards 2007. In the previous year he was named Best News Journalist at the Consensus IT Writers Awards.

He no longer uses his Commodore 64.

Liam Tung

About Liam Tung

Liam Tung is an Australian business technology journalist living a few too many Swedish miles north of Stockholm for his liking. He gained a bachelors degree in economics and arts (cultural studies) at Sydney's Macquarie University, but hacked (without Norse or malicious code for that matter) his way into a career as an enterprise tech, security and telecommunications journalist with ZDNet Australia. These days Liam is a full time freelance technology journalist who writes for several publications.

About

Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • Gahh, it's not news!!

    This is nothing new from Scheider - it's basically the theme of his several-years-old book. Stop wasting my time.
    anonymous