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Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive [Hardcover]

Bruce Schneier
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Book Description

Feb. 14 2012
In today's hyper-connected society, understanding the mechanisms of trust is crucial. Issues of trust are critical to solving problems as diverse as corporate responsibility, global warming, and the political system. In this insightful and entertaining book, Schneier weaves together ideas from across the social and biological sciences to explain how society induces trust. He shows the unique role of trust in facilitating and stabilizing human society. He discusses why and how trust has evolved, why it works the way it does, and the ways the information society is changing everything.

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Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive + Carry On: Sound Advice from Schneier on Security
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"One of the best books I've read this year is by a security technologist, Bruce Schneier. In Liars and Outliers, he sets out to investigate how trust works in society and in business, how it is betrayed and the degree to which technology changes all of that, for the better or the worse. Schneier absolutely understands how profoundly trust oils the wheels of business and of daily life." (Margaret Heffernan, CBS MoneyWatch)

"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)



"A rich, insightfully fresh take on what security really means!"
DAVID ROPEIK, Author of How Risky is it, Really?

"Schneier has accomplished a spectacular tour de force: an enthralling ride through history, economics, and psychology, searching for the meanings of trust and security. A must read."
ALESSANDRO ACQUISTI, Associate Professor of Information Systems and Public Policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University

"Liars and Outliers offers a major contribution to the understandability of these issues, and has the potential to help readers cope with the ever-increasing risks to which we are being exposed. It is well written and delightful to read."
PETER G. NEUMANN, Principal Scientist in the SRI International Computer Science Laboratory

"Whether it's banks versus robbers, Hollywood versus downloaders, or even the Iranian secret police against democracy activists, security is often a dynamic struggle between a majority who want to impose their will, and a minority who want to push the boundaries. Liars and Outliers will change how you think about conflict, our security, and even who we are."
ROSS ANDERSON, Professor of Security Engineering at Cambridge University and author of Security Engineering

"Readers of Bruce Schneier's Liars and Outliers will better understand technology and its consequences and become more mature practitioners."
PABLO G. MOLINA, Professor of Technology Management, Georgetown University

"Liars & Outliers is not just a book about security—it is the book about it. Schneier shows that the power of humour can be harnessed to explore even a serious subject such as security. A great read!"
FRANK FUREDI, author of On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence

"This fascinating book gives an insightful and convincing framework for understanding security and trust."
JEFF YAN, Founding Research Director, Center for Cybercrime and Computer Security, Newcastle University

"By analyzing the moving parts and interrelationships among security, trust, and society, Schneier has identifi ed critical patterns, pressures, levers, and security holes within society. Clearly written, thoroughly interdisciplinary, and always smart, Liars and Outliers provides great insight into resolving society's various dilemmas."
JERRY KANG, Professor of Law, UCLA

"By keeping the social dimension of trust and security in the center of his analysis, Schneier breaks new ground with an approach that both theoretically grounded and practically applicable."
JONATHAN ZITTRAIN, Professor of Law and Computer Science, Harvard University and author of The Future of the Internet—And How to Stop It

"Eye opening. Bruce Schneier provides a perspective you need to understand today’s world."
STEVEN A. LEBLANC, Director of Collections, Harvard University and author of Constant Battles: Why We Fight

"An outstanding investigation of the importance of trust in holding society together and promoting progress. Liars and Outliers provides valuable new insights into security and economics."
ANDREW ODLYZKO, Professor, School of Mathematics, University of Minnesota

"What Schneier has to say about trust—and betrayal—lays a groundwork for greater understanding of human institutions. This is an essential exploration as society grows in size and complexity."
JIM HARPER, Director of Information Policy Studies, CATO Institute and author of Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood

"Society runs on trust. Liars and Outliers explains the trust gaps we must fill to help society run even better."
M. ERIC JOHNSON, Director, Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College

"An intellectually exhilarating and compulsively readable analysis of the subtle dialectic between cooperation and defection in human society. Intellectually rigorous and yet written in a lively, conversational style, Liars and Outliers will change the way you see the world."
DAVID LIVINGSTONE SMITH, author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others

"Schneier tackles trust head on, bringing all his intellect and a huge amount of research to bear. The best thing about this book, though, is that it's great fun to read."
ANDREW MCAFEE, Principal Research Scientist, MIT Center for Digital Business and co-author of Race Against the Machine

"Bruce Schneier is our leading expert in security. But his book is about much more than reducing risk. It is a fascinating, thought-provoking treatise about humanity and society and how we interact in the game called life."
JEFF JARVIS, author of Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live

"Both accessible and thought provoking, Liars and Outliers invites readers to move beyond fears and anxieties about security in modern life to understand the role of everyday people in creating a healthy society. This is a must-read!"
DANAH BOYD, Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University

"Trust is the sine qua non of the networked age and trust is predicated on security. Bruce Schneier’s expansive and readable work is rich with insights that can help us make our shrinking world a better one."
DON TAPSCOTT, co-author of Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business
and the World

"An engaging and wide-ranging rumination on what makes society click. Highly recommended."
JOHN MUELLER, author of Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Plus ca change... July 26 2012
By David Wineberg TOP 100 REVIEWER
Bruce Schneier lives in a very different world. His specialty has long been IT security, and he has drilled so deep, no one can compare. This book is about trust and security, using history, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and especially philosophy, to trace their development and deployment. He not only divines the if, but the how and when that people, and their societies, confer trust. He slices and dices his topic in every conceivable way. It is a fascinating process to watch.

And yet, it doesn't always ring true. Schneier spends many pages extolling the virtues of society and how an optimal mix of co-operative elements keeps the liars, cheaters and criminals in check. There are whole chapters on societal, moral and reputational pressures. But we have only to look to our own reality to see it isn't so.

At the corporate level, for example, individual companies do not always work to keep the bad seeds out. Entire industries are crooked, criminal affairs that exist purely to suck the lifeblood out of their customers. There isn't a bank in the United States that we can take pride in. They don't talk about customer loyalty; they plot lock-in. They are universally loathed and despised, and they continue to treat their customers worse and worse, to reinforce it. Airlines should be prosecuted for the obvious collusion in the bizarre fee structures, penalties and restrictions they all magically decided to impose on the public a few years back. Health insurers have one overriding goal - to deny health services to their customers and let them fight to get reimbursed. There isn't one of them anyone loves. If they all disappeared tomorrow, no one would mourn for the good old days.

There isn't one participant in any of these entire industries that we trust.
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As Bruce Schneier explains, "All complex ecosystems, whether they are biological ecosystems like the human body, natural ecosystems like a rain forest, social ecosystems like an open-air market, or socio-technical ecosystems like the global finance system, or the Internet, are deeply interlinked. Individual units within those ecosystems are interdependent, each doing its part and relying on the other units to do their parts as well. This is neither rare nor difficult, and complex systems abound.

"At the same time, all complex ecosystems contain parasites. Within every interdependent system, there are individuals who try to subvert the system to their own ends. These could be tapeworms in our digestive tracts, thieves in a bazaar, robbers disguised as plumbers, spammers on the Internet, or companies that move their profits offshore to evade taxes.

"Within complex systems, there is a fundamental tension between what I'm going to call cooperating, or acting in the group interest; and what I'm going to call defecting, or acting against the group interest and instead in one's own self-interest."

In these few words, Schneier has established the framework within which to present an abundance of information, insights, and counsel that prepare his reader and almost any organization (or almost any group within an organization) to help establish and then sustain a culture within which mutual trust is most likely to thrive. There is one essential question to be answered: How to empower the "cooperators" with whatever resources are needed so that they can minimize (if not eliminate) the damage done by "defectors"? In this context, "an ounce of prevention" really is worth "a pound of cure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
was very excited to read this book - and then I felt very disappointed. By the second chapter the central idea had been established and the rest of the book was reiteration.

To be fair Schneier covers the issues related to security very well. Unfortunately he does so via an ideological orientation of the 'rational actor'. Despite referring to Daniel Kahneman (Nobel Laureate in economics - who has destroyed he notion of the rational actor), Schneier frames all of the dilemmas in a rational choice frame - with 'actors' struggling to deal with the either-or choice. All or most of, the dilemmas are frame via the 'prisoner's dilemma. In fact, the book should be called applying the prisoner's dilemma to security issues.

In the same way, Schneier refers to the work of Eleanor' Ostrom (another Noble Laureate for her work on the self-governance of 'commons'), he never applies her work to properly challenge the premises of the prisoner's dilemma game.

Another major method of Schneier's ideological bias is his choice of terms. By depending solely on the rational actor/choice model of prisoner's dilemma approaches he justifies calling the actor who appears self-seeking (from within the frame) as a 'defector' - why doesn't he just call the actor a sinner!! For all the difference it would make.

As I noted Schneier covers the security issues - but he does it in a very biased way, a bias that assumes people are rational and that moral issues are adequately addressed in simple either-or terms. Reality is so different - people have multiple values and concerns, make decisions that are influenced by framing, priming, and habit (among many other influences). And our social nature is much more powerful than modern economic models of rational choice and the assumption of atomistic, isolated individuality.

For anyone really concerned with security I would NOT recommend this book
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars  116 reviews
65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars explains what holds society together (+ a terrific primer on game theory) Feb. 2 2012
By Adam Thierer - Published on
How does society function when you know you can't possibly trust everyone in it? That's the question at the heart of Bruce Schneier's enlightening new book, "Liars and Outliers." There is no single or simple answer, Schneier explains. Instead, four "societal pressures" combine to help create and preserve trust within society. Those pressures include: (1) Moral pressures; (2) Reputational pressures; (3) Institutional pressures; and (4) Security systems. By "dialing in" these societal pressures in varying degrees, trust is generated over time within groups.

Of course, these societal pressures also fail on occasion, Schneier notes. He explores a host of scenarios -- in organizations, corporations, and governments -- when trust breaks down because defectors seek to evade the norms and rules the society lives by. These defectors are the "liars and outliers" in Schneier's narrative and his book is an attempt to explain the complex array of incentives and trade-offs that are at work and which lead some humans to "game" systems or evade the norms and rules others follow.

Indeed, Schneier's book serves as an excellent primer on game theory as he walks readers through complex scenarios such as prisoner's dilemma, the hawk-dove game, the free-rider problem, the bad apple effect, principle-agent problems, the game of chicken, race to the bottom, capture theory, and more. These problems are all quite familiar to economists, psychologists, and political scientists, who have spent their lives attempting to work through these scenarios. Schneier has provided a great service here by making game theory more accessible to the masses and given it practical application to a host of real-world issues.

The most essential lesson Schneier teaches us is that perfect security is an illusion. We can rely on those four societal pressures in varying mixes to mitigate problems like theft, terrorism, fraud, online harassment, and so on, but it would be foolish and dangerous to believe we can eradicate such problems completely. "There can be too much security," Schneier explains, because, at some point, constantly expanding security systems and policies will result in rapidly diminishing returns. Trying to eradicate every social pathology would bankrupt us and, worse yet, "too much security system pressure lands you in a police state," he correctly notes.

Despite these challenges, Schneier reminds us that there is cause for optimism. Humans adapt better to social change than they sometimes realize, usually by tweaking the four societal pressures Schneier identifies until a new balance emerges. While liars and outliers will always exist, society will march on.

You can read my longer review of Schneier's "Liars & Outliers" over at Forbes.
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant analysis of how trust works and its inherent complexities Feb. 22 2012
By Ben Rothke - Published on
It is said that the song Wipe Out launched a generation of drummers. In the world of information security, the classic Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C by Bruce Schenier may have been the book that launched a generation of new cryptographers.

Schenier latest work of art is Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive. For those that are looking for a follow-up to Applied Cryptography, this it is not. In fact, it is hard to classify this as an information security title and in fact the book is marked for the current affairs / sociology section. Whatever section this book ultimately falls in, the reader will find that Schneier is one of the most original thinkers around.

In Applied Cryptography Schneier dealt with the pristine world of mathematical cryptography where aspects of pure mathematics could be demonstrably proven. For example, non-repudiation is absolutely provable.

In Liars and Outliers, Schneier moves from the pristine world of mathematics into the muddy world of human trust. Non-repudiation is no longer an absolute in a world where a Windows kernel can be compromised and end-users can be victims of social engineering.

The book addresses the fundamental question of how does society function when you can't trust everyone. Schneier notes that nothing in society works without trust. It's the foundation of communities, commerce, democracy, in truth - everything. And Schneier deals extensively with social and moral pressures that effect trust.

Liars and Outliers is very similar to books Umberto Eco, that have a Renaissance feel to them; bringing myriad and diverse topics together. Schenier does this here and intertwines topics such as game theory, evolution, surveillance, existentialism and much more. Schneier's brilliance is that he is able to connect seemingly disparate dots around information security and society, and show how they are in truth tightly coupled.

In the book, Schneier makes note of those that don't follow the rules. He calls these people defectors, and these are the liars and outliers of the book. The book notes that everything is a trade-off, and these defectors are the ones that try to break the rules.

An overall theme of the book, in which Schneier touches and references sociology, psychology, economics, criminology, anthropology, game theory and much more, is that society can't function without trust. He writes that in our complex interconnect and global society, that we need a lot of trust.

Schneier makes frequent reference to Dunbar's number, which he first references in chapter 2. Dunbar's number was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar and is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. It is generally in the area of 150. So when someone sees a person with 3,000 Facebook friends, something is clearly amiss.

In chapter 9 on institutional pressures, Schneier takes a very broad look at threats facing society today. One of the biggest perceived threats we have today is terrorism, and the book astutely notes that we can never ensure perfect security against terrorism.

If Schneier had his way, the TSA budget would be measured in the millions, not billions of dollars. He incisively observes that all the talk of terrorism as an existential threat to society is utter nonsense. As long as terrorism is rare enough (which it is), and most people survive (which they do), society will survive. He writes that while that observation is true, it is not politically viable for our leaders to come out and say that.

While the book is heavy on the people focus, Schneier also acknowledges that sometimes and for some people, the incentives to commit crimes are worth the risk. To deal with those, that is where security technologies come into play.

An interesting observation made in chapter 10 around technology is that sometimes the technological changes have absolutely nothing to do with the societal dilemma being secured. For example, he notes that between the ubiquity of keyboards and the tendency for teachers to focus on standardized tests, cursive is no longer being taught that much in schools. The result is that signatures are more likely to be either printed text is an illegible scrawl; making them easier to forge. Which in turns creates new security risks.
In the book Schneier makes scores of astute observations on how society functions around security. He notes in chapter 16 that we are currently in a period of history where technology is changing faster than it ever has. The worry is that if technology changes too fast, the attackers will be able to innovate so much faster than society can that the imbalance become even greater; with failures that negatively affect society.

In many of the examples in the book, Schneier paints a dark picture given the advantage that the attackers and defectors have. But he also notes that we are in a period of history where the ability for large-scale cooperation is greater than it has ever been before. On that topic, he refers to the book The Penguin and the Leviathan: How Cooperation Triumphs over Self-Interest by Yochai Benkler where he writes that the Internet can and has enabled cooperation on a scale never before seen. And that politics, backed by science, is ready to embrace this new cooperation.

On the lighter side, in chapter 17, Schneier notes that Mussolini didn't make the trains run on time; he just made it illegal to complain about them.

Schneier notes at the end of the book that its lesson isn't that defectors will inevitably ruin everything for everyone. Rather that we as a society need to manage societal pressure to ensure that they don't.
Liars and Outliers is an absolutely fascinating and groundbreaking book. In this election year where the candidates attempt to make sweeping simplistic promises to fix complex problems, Schneier simply answers that in our complex society, there are no simple answers.

In Applied Cryptography Bruce Schneier demonstrated he was quite the smart guy. In Liars and Outliers, he shows he is even smarter than most of us first thought.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a textbook June 26 2013
By Tom Braun - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Bruce Schneier is a world-renowned security expert with a very good blog which I've followed for some time. While he's authored many books, Liars and Outliers is the first in which he ventures outside of his narrow field of computer security. This time he's trying to apply the lenses of trust and security to society at large. This is Schneier's 'big idea' book and I was excited to see what he'd do with it.

Unfortunately, Schneier proves himself to be a less than engaging writer. The adjective 'didactic' might have been coined to fit his style. He hammers on basic ideas like societal pressures over and over again. Virtually every 'trust' scenario features one or two tables, and maybe a flow chart. I half expected the chapters to end with knowledge review questions. Schneier has a bright future ahead of him as an author of text books if his security consulting gigs ever go south.

I don't want to say that the book is entirely without interest. You might expect someone like Schneier to have lots of interesting stories about security breaches, betrayal of trust and bad behavior generally. And he does. But these tend to be few and far between, scattered across long dry digressions into game theory and evolutionary biology and other stuff. Schneier is much more interesting when he's on his own turf, talking about corporate and government security and the impacts of technology on the same.

Schneier takes a dim view of corporations and governments. Initially I found him to be quite cynical on these topics, but then the Edward Snowden leaks happened and after that he seemed drearily prophetic. I have no doubt that the forward to the second edition of this book will begin with "See, I told you so."

Like many 'big idea' books that I've noticed, this one suffers from 'last chapter should have been first' syndrome. Schneier's rules about cooperation and defection are one of the meatier parts of the book, not to mention one of the few places where he really lets his own ideas shine through. I would have put them up front, and then spent the rest of the book fleshing them out with interesting antecdotes.

I didn't write the book, though. Bruce Schneier did! So buckle your seat belt and get ready for a wild ride of tables, charts and copious footnotes!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A detailed systemic examination of the abstract concept of trust. Feb. 26 2012
By Teresa Merklin - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive" is a departure from Bruce Schneier, who is widely regarded for his cryptography books and as a highly respected computer security commentator. Moving away from the hard core mathematics required for effective modern cryptography, in his latest offering Schneier constructs a framework for understanding trust and the various systemic forces that act upon it.

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.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bruce Schneier is the Umberto Eco of computer security April 26 2012
By Arlene Katz - Published on
This book changes how we think about trust and society. And with that, how we think about security and society.

But make no mistake - this book is not just for security wonks and computer geeks. This book is for anyone who thinks seriously and imaginatively about how society functions. Schneier is the Umberto Eco of computer security. He doesn't speak in algorithms. He speaks in the language of a public intellectual as comfortable with questions of morality and ethics as he is with computer code. He's knows Hegel and Heidegger as well as he knows gaming theory.

Liars and Outliars synthesizes scholarship from a cornucopia of fields - from sociology to hard science, philosophy to physics. Schneier moves fluidly between seemingly disparate schools of thought, unveiling connections between the security structures society creates and the unseen sociological and philosophical forces that cause their very creation. Schneier assumes nothing and questions everything. And in his questioning, he reveals the moral and practical calculations that inform societies' trust and security decisions.

You might think Liars and Outliars should be read by everyone interested in computer security. But really, the book should be read by everyone.
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