Privately Bruce

One of my former students, the amazing Catherine Thiallier, was recently lucky enough to attend a fascinating event (one I wanted to go to, but was busy teaching, unfortunately): She was also kind enough to write up a distillation of the event, and has agreed to let me share it here. So I will post her impressions, then offer my own comment on the topics discussed.

Full disclosure: I am a total Bruce Schneier fanboy. Even when I disagree with him. And I made some minor edits for translation/clarity.

“Hope you are well. I forgot to give you the update on the conference. Bruce Schneier is an amazing talker.. Unfortunately he had to leave early and couldn’t stay very long but still made a speech and answered at least 10 questions.

Content of his speech, basically (and I guess those are the topics he develops in his books):

- The Internet was not conceived to be secure

- We always think confidentiality is the most important of the CIA triad, but now it’s actually availability and integrity (I’m more concerned the brakes would fail on my car or somebody at the hospital changes my blood type than somebody reading information about me).

- Three big IT security fails:  patching (example: it’s not easily possible for your router at home). Authentication  (no scalable solution for IoT). And supply chain processes. And the keys are policies/regulations; can't blame the users for choosing the cheapest option.  The free market won’t reward the secure solution, it has to come from government/laws. He made the analogy that when he gets on a plane he doesn’t check the engines and go to the pilot and ask him to show him his degrees. Or a restaurant, he doesn’t check the kitchen. We are trusting the law. Key is trust in applied law.

That was in about the content of his speech. Then the second planned guest was sick, and instead they invited an amazing woman, Katie Moussouris, who created the bug bounty program at Microsoft, and gave a speech about vulnerability disclosure /pentest /bug bounties. She has an amazing and very inspiring personality. As (shame on me, but am still new in the field!) I never heard the term Bug Bounty I was a bit lost - now I know - so all in one, great event!!

I found some other stuff I noted and forgot to write: 

Last century the fundamental question was how much of my life is governed by the market and how much by the state. Now the question is how much of my life is governed by technology and with which rules.

Question from the audience: Whose fault is this? => the market rewards insecure solutions  (cheaper). Companies want security as long as they can spy on you.  But security OR surveillance by design=> can't be both!

Ok now I think that's all. I definitely want to read one of his books. Have you read "click here to kill everybody"? I loove the title already :)”

Fantastic stuff! And I’m very jealous she got to attend.

My quick comments on Bruce’s points:

- I think legislation/regulation are the worst mechanisms for enforcement...especially when it comes to IT. Mainly because government (especially the American government) has demonstrated, time and again, that it doesn’t care about privacy, and knows nothing about IT. And Bruce has been the one demonstrating this, to great effect (and some hilarity). Just one example: He’s also been one of the most vocal critics of TSA...which is a perfect example of what happens when you let the government do security.

- The market doesn’t reward secure solutions because the market doesn’t care. People say they care about their personal privacy...but then go ahead and refute the statement every chance they get. People will respond on a survey that they value security of their private data...but those same people will give up their passwords for a candy bar, and won’t stop shopping at a vendor who has demonstrated a complete lack of ability to secure that information.

- When the market does care, there are excellent mechanisms for making it much, much more efficient and effective than a government solution. Let’s use the food example Bruce mentioned: the US federal government is in charge of making sure our food is safe...and American citizens still die from eating poison lettuce. Conversely, a private, cooperative, voluntary, market-drive solution has been implemented (and paid for) by a small, interested group of citizens: the kosher inspection and markings on American food products. Without any government involvement at all, the American Jewish community has installed their own quality control/assurance process into food production, and it is trusted (as far as I know) by every member of that community (and also serves to protect nonmembers, who get the benefit of food inspection/approval even though they don’t pay for it, and probably don’t know it exists). When people do start to care about their information, they will demonstrate their caring by withholding money from entities that violate privacy, and reward entities that offer privacy protection. Until then, adding a law to protect something people only claim to care about is worse than useless: it’s harmful and dangerous and expensive.


But I’m still a giant fanboy. heh.

Thanks again, Catherine, for excellent summary of what seems to have been a great event!