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4.3 out of 5 stars
Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World
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on December 25, 2016
Best book on security I've read. Bold storyline intended to challenge your preconceived opinions. Totally worth it
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on July 4, 2007
The content of this book slightly overlap the content of the author previous book (Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World) but presents the material with a different angle. An angle with the perspective of a security expert that witness security measures taken by governments in reaction of the 9/11 terrorism attack and wants people to understand the absurdity of some of these measures.

It is not technical at all and does not necessitate any particular background to understand and enjoy. The author explains clearly how to make a risk assessment of something that you want to make more secure and then evaluate the cost of the security measures. Only when you have that data, you can evaluate if the added security is worth it.

These explanations are backed up with concrete examples such as evaluating the risk to make purchase with a credit card over the internet. Other examples include the absurdity of securing a lunch in a company refrigerator because the potential loss if having a lunch stolen does not justify securing it. The author also explains that even with technologies that looks very accurate such as facial recognition with an error rate of, let's say, 0.0001 % are totally ineffective when they have to control a huge number of persons like a stadium crowd because even with this accuracy, they would create an unmanageable amount of false positive alerts.

The author also elaborate about why you should question the motivation of a security provider when it is a third party and link this with how people fears can be exploited to introduce invasive, excessively expensive and inefficient security measures. I think that the goal of the author was to make people more critics about security questions and my opinion is that his goal has been successfully achieved.
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on November 20, 2003
_Beyond Fear_ is a good book, and I'd put it into the "should read" but not "must read" category for people working in security (as opposed to _Secrets and Lies_, which I put into the "must read" category). There's little new or profound in the book, which is essentially an elaboration with examples on the five-step process of analyzing and evaluating security systems given on pp. 14-15 of the book:
1. What assets are you trying to protect?
2. What are the risks to these assets?
3. How well does the security system mitigate those risks?
4. What other risks does the security system cause?
5. What costs and trade-offs does the security solution impose?
In the process, Schneier provides many interesting examples. This is an excellent book on security for the layman. But it is definitely a book targeted at a popular audience. There are no footnotes or references, and Schneier occasionally tosses off remarks or asides that are questionable, if not false.
There are two significant flaws in the book:
1. It exaggerates the subjectivity of a security evaluation. On p. 17, chapter two is titled "Security Trade-offs are Subjective." But it's not the trade-off itself that is subjective. It's not the risk assessment that is subjective. It is people's non-instrumental desires (basic desires) or
values that are subjective.
Schneier writes (p. 17) that "Different people have different senses of what constitutes a threat"--but some are right and some are wrong. His distinction between perceived and actual risk shows that the important one is actual risk, not perceived risk. Actual risk is objective, not subjective. Schneier continues "or what level of risk is acceptable." That can certainly have a subjective component, but even subjective components can conflict with each other and be internally inconsistent, indicating a problem in the evaluation.
The final sentence of the chapter contradicts the chapter title: "Because we do not understand the risks, we make bad security trade-offs." (p. 31) If the trade-offs were subjective, there would be no such thing as a bad trade-off, only a trade-off perceived to be bad by someone.
Later in the book Schneier contradicts the strong subjectivity claim (e.g., p. 249: "Massive surveillance systems are *never* worth it." (emphasis added)) I don't think he seriously meant to make the strong claim--I think it's just careless/imprecise writing. p. 259 seems to get it pretty much right, but he should really have found a philosopher to review this book--that a problem is intractable doesn't mean that the answer is subjective, nor does the fact that subjective interests enter into the picture mean that the answer, given those interests, is subjective.
2. The book argues for an exaggerated egalitarianism--that anybody, regardless of background, training, or intelligence, can do security analysis. At the same time, the book touches on some of the evidence that ordinary judgments are inaccurate, and that people are notoriously bad at estimating and comparing risks due to the natural use of heuristics like vividness, recency, etc. (the classic Kahnemann and Tversy book, _Judgment Under Uncertainty_, summarizes some of this evidence).
It would be grossly mistaken to think that Joe Schmoe off the street is going to be capable of designing (or evaluating) the effectiveness of a complex security system, versus people with appropriate training and experience--just as mistaken as hiring people with no computer knowledge to build and maintain your IT infrastructure.
Again, like in point 1, Schneier says things which contradict the strong hypothesis he seems to argue for, for example when he writes that wealthy people want doctors who treat others, not just standing by on 24/7 on-call for those wealthy people, because they want doctors who are experienced.
And I think this is a good comparison--the position Schneier *should* be arguing for is that we should take responsibility for our own security in the same way that we should take responsibility for our own health. We still need to rely on experts, but we should take an active role in consulting with them and evaluating what they tell us, especially since (just as in health care and medicine) there are people who know what they are talking about and those who are snake oil salesmen.
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on December 16, 2003
I first read about Bruce Schneier in an eye-opening article by Charles Mann in the September, 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. It seems that you don't have to make the false choice everyone is agonizing over between security and liberty. You can have both.
Schneier's book expands on the ideas in the article. Although Schneier is a technology fan and it is his livelihood, he realizes that sometimes a live security guard can provide better security than cutting-edge (but still fallible) face-recognition scanners, for instance. He explains why national ID cards are not a good idea, and how iris-scanners can be fooled.
These are ideas for security on a large scale, for airports, nuclear and other power plants, and government websites. For security on an individual or small business scale, try Art of the Steal by Frank Abagnale. But even if you don't run a government, Beyond Fear is a fascinating read about how your government is making choices (and how they SHOULD be making choices about your security and about your rights.
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on August 2, 2003
In a world where we are constantly bombarded with information about how to be safer, what things are dangerous, what to do in case of X, it is pleasant and surprising to see a book that tells you how to make decisions like these yourself.
Pleasantly apolitical, Schneier presents a concrete way to evaluate various decisions about security. Should you install an alarm system in your home? Should airline pilots be armed? While different in scope, the process of answering these questions is the same and presented in easy-to-understand language. This is not a book for "security experts" it is a book for all of us.
When you are finished reading the book, you are armed with the tools to make decisions about your own security and to evaluate the ideas presented by policy-makers. More importantly, you have the tools to rationally describe why potential policies would make things less secure rather than more secure.
This book is a valuable, perhaps necessary, resource for everyone. If you've ever worried about a particular threat and wondered what you could do, read this book.
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on January 21, 2004
Not quite what I'd expected. I'd read & enjoyed 'Secrets & Lies', and I thought this would be more of the same. This book is really a discussion about what actions have been taken post 9/11, and in parts it's a criticism of the overreaction that there has been.
However, its not overtly political, and gives dozens (perhaps a 100) practical worked examples of good & bad, effective & ineffective, responses to security issues, whether it be physical, electronic etc.
There is a 5-step process which I found useful to apply to everyday situations; and (in highly abbreviated form) these are : what are you trying to protect; what are the risks; risk mitigation; risks caused by the solution; trade-offs
The core message is : "as both individuals and a society, we can make choices about our security", and this book helps you understand how to make those informed decisions.
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on January 23, 2004
Bruce Schneier is a well known security expert and author of one of my favorite technical books of all time, Applied Cryptography. This latest book, Beyond Fear, is written for a popular audience and mostly discusses security measures taken by the US since 9/11.
While Bruce is thoughtful, clear, and provides excellent examples to back up his points, this book really could have used better editing. To me, it feels like a three chapters were spun out into an entire book by repeating the same points and same examples over and over again.
I still think this book is worth buying. The first 3-4 chapters alone are worthwhile. Spending some time thinking about the security the way Bruce thinks about it -- always from a cost/benefit standpoint -- is worthwhile. But, as I was, you might get a little frustrated by the poor editing.
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on January 5, 2004
I have read a number of the Pro and Con reviews. I think it is important to take a good look at the title of the book, and use that as a guide to a buying decision. This book is not an in-depth cookbook of technical approaches to combat hackers, but rather a sensible way of looking at the issues that contribute to an aura of security, the appearance of security, and actually being secure. I really liked the whole premise, because we are such an image conscience, and sound-bite oriented society that it can become quite difficult to deliver a thought-provoking treatise on a topic that many think they know so much about.
My only negative comment would be that it got a little slow at the end, for me. Maybe I was just tired that night or something.
He cites a few excellent examples of places or instances where someone did something that they honestly felt would contribute to increased security, when the actual effect turned out to be the opposite. If I may draw a crude comparison: if you appreciated some of the observations, and perhaps even the writing style and presentation in Hammer and Champy's "Reengineering the Corporation", then you will like and appreciate this volume. The way Mr. Schneier presents information, and the way he introduces you to perceived vs. actual may strike you as being similar. (No offense meant to either author - I enjoyed both)
Happy trails.
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on October 16, 2003
Executive summary: Timely and well written. Buy it.
Bruce has a great ability to "keep it real" - which is why his books are so readable and down to earth. With a background in cryptography, Bruce has broadened his scope to become one of the broadest-thinkers in security today - no mean feat by any measure.
One of the reasons I tell my corporate consulting clients to "Read Bruce's books" is because he's able to put things into the overall context in a way that is uplifting rather than depressing or overwhelming. For example, I consider "Secrets and Lies" (and now "Beyond Fear") to be essential bookshelf material for anyone who has to deal with security. When people are starting in security and ask me where to begin, it's with these books. Absorbing them, and the concepts behind them, is a good way of avoiding the pitfalls in this complex field.
For the non-security-professional, this book is also a terrific read. Read it more like it's a spy novel, sit back, and enjoy it. Movie script-writers? If you're going to write a script that touches on computer security: read this book.
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on August 10, 2003
"I am reminded of stories of farmers from the countryside coming to the big city for the first time. We are all rubes from the past, trying to cope with the present day." (Page 29.)
"Beyond Fear" explains how experts think about security and the new challenges posed both by modern technology and the medieval mindset of suicide bombers. Everyone knows that security has costs: money, time, and perhaps restrictions on civil liberties. But experts know that security measures, even if well thought-out, often create entirely new problems. Amatuerish attempts to increase security often decrease security instead.
In "Beyond Fear," Schneier introduces five simple questions to ask about any security measure to determine if the measure is useful or useless. He uses examples ranging from satelllite technology to antics of deep-sea squids to illustrate his points. And, as anyone in the sciences knows, "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch." Any real-life situation will require a complex series of tradeoffs between conflicting requirements and costs.
Written for the intelligent layperson, this book is required reading for any person who wants to understand how to approach security on a personal, national, and international level.
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