Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Security Entertainment Your Rights Online

Schneier On the War On the Unexpected 405

Posted by kdawson
from the security-theater-on-an-escalator dept.
jamie found this essay by Bruce Schneier, The War on the Unexpected. (It originally appeared in Wired but this version has all the links.) "We've opened up a new front on the war on terror. It's an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it's a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested — even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats... After someone reports a 'terrorist threat,' the whole system is biased towards escalation and CYA instead of a more realistic threat assessment... If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel, you shouldn't be surprised when you get amateur security."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Schneier On the War On the Unexpected

Comments Filter:
  • sounds about right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dance_Dance_Karnov (793804) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @07:39AM (#21195023) Homepage
    people using the excuse of a boogieman in the shadows to lash out against those they don't understand and/or fear?

    unheard of in all of human history.
    • People, en masse, are indeed stupid. (Should I reference Nietzsche?) How ironic that this should come up today; I came into work this morning, and took the back stairway as I usually do, but I passed some wierd looking device that was sitting in the corner of the hallway. The device had been there the evening before, when I left, and it had been "running" throughout the night. It had several hoses coming off of it and I had no idea what it was used for - and I know about ALL KINDS of strange devices in my b
      • by FozE_Bear (1093167)
        You didn't call anyones attention to it, did you? You just confirmed to me that a way to plant a bomb where you work is to just make it look compex enough.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AndersOSU (873247)
        There's a link at the bottom of TFA talking about how someone couldn't get through security with a Improvised Electronics Device [makezine.com].

        This tells me that the TSA agents are incredibly poorly trained. (No I'm not just now coming to this conclusion.) Whenever a TSA agent sees something suspicious, they absolutely have to investigate, but they need to know how to investigate. The first thing is they should have a list of things that could possibly damage an airplane. Bomb, wepon (gun, taser, etc.), maybe a tran
    • by flyingsquid (813711) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @08:55AM (#21195891)

      BURNS: Why is that man in pink?!

      SMITHERS: Oh, that's Homer Simpson, sir. He's one of your boobs from Sector 7-G.

      BURNS: Simpson, eh? Well, judging by his outlandish attire, he's some sort of free-thinking anarchist!

      SMITHERS: I'll call security, sir.

      BURNS: Excellent. Yes, these color monitors have already paid for themselves...

  • Dejavu (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WPIDalamar (122110) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @07:40AM (#21195027) Homepage
    America is at war with terrorism. America has ALWAYS been at war with terrorism.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      America is the terrorist. The freedom quashing, illiberal authority, veiled by the notion that "it's for your own good". It's the quintessential machine. We're now being encouraged to fear ourselves, our neighbours of any colour or creed, our own children; all without bringing any form of logical judgement to the decision.

      God help us.
    • by RobBebop (947356)

      America is at war with terrorism. America has ALWAYS been at war with terrorism.

      Thank you for the obligatory 1984 reference.

      The problem is a combination of citizen informants

      For the information of those who HAVEN'T read 1984, this is how the thought-police work. It isn't any magical "mind-reading powers". It is mainly brainwashing the children and giving them the authority to turn their parents over to the authorities.

      Also, if I may be so bold as to do a little self-promotion (because it is relevant)... if you've got interests in post-modern societies, I would urge you to click the link in my signature to be taken to a page wh

      • Re:Dejavu (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dctoastman (995251) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @09:01AM (#21195971) Homepage
        1984 is nice, but I prefer "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"

        "The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record: prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and the thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own, for the children and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that such things cannot be confined... to The Twilight Zone."
  • The War on Terror (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Colin Smith (2679) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @07:44AM (#21195055)
    Is a war against an emotion... Anything which can cause fear is therefore subject to the war. In that way it's the perfect war for politicians.

     
    • by GodWasAnAlien (206300) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @08:19AM (#21195367)
      I hear NPR mention a "war on terror", and I want to call in a correction/complaint.

      A war on terror or fear is quite different than a war on terrorism.

      And a war on terrorism is quite different than a war against terrorists.

      And of course a war on terrorists is quite different that a war against a specific group.

      A war against an generic term, a tactic or unspecified groups of people cannot be won.
      (It cannot be lost either).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by halber_mensch (851834)

        A war against an generic term, a tactic or unspecified groups of people cannot be won.
        (It cannot be lost either).

        As long as your "enemy" is unquantifiable, ever shifting, and not discretely identifiable, you're just using a military pretense to dump mass amounts of public funds into private industry. Most likely because you and your cabinet buddies have huge stock options in the corporations that get the government checks.


    • An perfect, eternal, war even..
    • Anything which can cause fear is therefore subject to the war.


      Like today's news conference on a bill discussing IED's in this country. You think I'm kidding? I saw a blurb this morning on CNN and here's the link [usatoday.com] to USA Today verifying the news conference will take place. Second item in the list.

    • Colonel Jeff Cooper, a guy who didn't shrink from a fight, felt exactly the same way.

      Eliminating people who want to kill you, or who do evil things, is a fine idea but this has been morphed into an exercise for chickenhawks.
    • by kabocox (199019)
      Is a war against an emotion... Anything which can cause fear is therefore subject to the war. In that way it's the perfect war for politicians.

      So can we have most politicians, reporters, and lawyers arrested since they "scare the hell out of me" more than "terrorism" ever has.
  • High School Politics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gothmolly (148874) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @07:45AM (#21195073)
    Our whole lives are spent dealing with people and their reactions to what is 'acceptable' and taking the risk that what you try and accomplish is 'unexpected'. Wear long hair in the executive world? Get fired. Dye your hair green in high school? Get teased. Run down a street naked? Get arrested.

    Humans are exceptional at detecting differences, its part of our nature, intellectually - we integrate similar concepts and differentiate between different ones. Our brains pick out differences. Thats why profiling at airports actually works.

    Its nice to see someone publish something about this, but its hardly insightful.
    • by kalirion (728907)
      Reminds me of a scene in The Painted Bird [wikipedia.org] where the novel's title stems from. This sicko entertains himself by capturing birds, painting them different colors, and then releasing them. When a painted bird tries to rejoin its flock, it gets pecked to death. Of course the whole deal is a metaphor for the main character (a human child.)
  • Narrow minded. (Score:2, Interesting)

    After someone reports a 'terrorist threat,' the whole system is biased towards escalation and CYA instead of a more realistic threat assessment...

    You know why they do this? Because several times already, government agencies have learned about possible terrorist acts being planned and didn't act because they didn't consider the source 'credible'. This has nothing to do with your BS tangents about targeting the unexpected, the different, etc. This has to do with agencies trying to save peoples lives.

    • Because several times already, government agencies have learned about possible terrorist acts being planned and didn't act because they didn't consider the source 'credible'.

      1) Cite some examples. C'mon, you should know that's mandatory.

      2) Even if that is the case, why is the proper reaction to just target anybody who's acting 'different'? Why isn't the proper action better training of our apparently inept government agencies? Isn't your point that said agencies aren't intelligent enough to know when

  • McCarthy-ism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by xgr3gx (1068984) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @07:57AM (#21195167) Homepage Journal
    This sounds like a throwback to the 50's and early 60's when "Communism" was the buzz word, and a conforming America was key to not being "outed" as a Commy.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tgatliff (311583)
      So what McCarthy-ism do you see in the statement of "You are either with us or you are with the Terrorists"?? :-)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Exactly. GWB's classic "you're either with us or against us" pitch was just an act of terrorism itself: it was telling the rest of the world that they must support the US policy even if they didn't like it, on pain of feeling the repercussions of the US acting against them next.

        The trouble with taking this binary stance is that it doesn't allow anyone who wants to remain neutral to do so. On balance, you'll find most of them turning against you if you force them to take sides, and that's what we're seeing

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 01, 2007 @07:59AM (#21195177)
    ...if their goal was to create fear in the U. S. population.

    The fear is real. I hate to admit it, but it affect me.

    Everyone knows that there will be further terrorist attacks on the U. S. On the one hand, we're not serious about beefing up homeland security, which is a disappointment to me--I was expecting at least a competent, good-faith effort. But we're doing all the "security theatre" stuff and none of the expensive, difficult, serious stuff. On the other hand, the Iraq war has inflamed passions in the Muslim world and created enemies where we didn't have them before. So the threat is getting worse and our defenses are not getting much better and all the "security theatre" just keeps reminding us of the issue.

    On my last plane trip, the gate was near security, and my wife and I were watching as some woman got some kind of very, very extended attention from the TSA people. She was dressed in some kind of dark robe that covered her body, her head, and most of her face; it looked to me like a burkha, but I don't really know anything about such things. She also had a somewhat disfigured face, with a golf-ball-sized lump of some kind on one side of her forehead.

    From our vantage point it was all pantomime. I don't know why they were searching her. But they would ask her questions, then wave those handheld metal-detector frisking things, have her sit down for a while, go away and come back with other officials who would ask her more questions and so forth. After about a half an hour she was still sitting there in the security area waiting. They announced that our flight was boarding and we got on and don't know anything more.

    What I hated myself for was that I personally was creeped out by this person and her appearance. And what I particularly hated myself for was that the things creeped me out were a) her style of dress, and b) her disfigured face.

    Part of me was indignant at what looked from a distance to be discriminatory treatment. And part of it was great relief that she was not on my flight.

    • by Stiletto (12066) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @08:27AM (#21195507)
      Everyone knows that there will be further terrorist attacks on the U. S.

      I love how this "fact" is just thrown out there and accepted as true, without giving a time frame. It's technically true, but utterly meaningless. Sure, somewhere between now and infinity years from now, there will be a "further terrorist attack". Great, I better prepare!

      By casually using this talking point, you're promoting the irrational fear that you argue that you are trying to avoid.

      The important questions, which get glossed over by things like the above declarative talking point, are "What is the likelihood of an attack within the next N, N+1, N+2... years?" and "What is the expected severity/method of such an attack, should it occur?" and "What is the likelihood that any given person will be affected?"

      Even if terrorists pulled off a 9/11 once every year or destroyed one shopping mall a week, your chances of actually dying in a terrorist attack are utterly miniscule [reason.com]. A rational person, when confronted with such numbers, should not be afraid.
    • You're pathetic (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Nursie (632944)
      You have more chance of being killed next time you get in a car or try to cross the road. Or being murdered by your neighbour. Or having a heart attack from to omuch fast food.

      The terorist threat is TINY and shouldn't have been allowed to affect life at all.

      Whether that woman was wearing a burkha or not is immaterial. Your disproportionate levels of fear are the problem here.
  • by cthulu_mt (1124113) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @08:03AM (#21195211)
    Choice 1: Over react and be labeled a fascist.

    Choice 2: Do nothing and be blamed when people die.

    No wonder we only get shit bags running for public office.
    • Mu (Score:5, Insightful)

      by schon (31600) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @08:19AM (#21195375)
      How about:

      Choice 3: React appropriately and install security measures that work, without unduly stressing people?

      The problem isn't that there are two extremes the people in power must choose from, the problem is that the two choices you gave are actually being done at the same time.
      • Re:Mu (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <`Satanicpuppy' `at' `gmail.com'> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @09:24AM (#21196279) Journal
        Look at Virginia Tech. That was a reasonable response, imho, because there was zero evidence that there was an impending rampage, rather than an isolated incident.

        But when the rampage materialized, they were viciously criticized for not having massively overreacted, on the off chance that there could be a rampage.

        Basically, the problem is people. No one in this country is willing to say, "They tried, it wasn't enough, it happens." Instead someone has to be blamed, and they have to take all the blame, even that that ought to just go to the damn perpetrator, because they should have been superhuman and seen it coming.

        So is it any wonder that the people in charge constantly overreact? Schneier hit the nail on the head this time. If you're going to be crucified for taking a commonsense, measured response that happens to be wrong, and lionized for an off-the-charts overreaction, whether its right or wrong, which one will you do? Rewarded behaviour is repeated, and punished behaviour is not.
    • 4) Realize that it's the terrorists who are to blame when shit blows up. And, get this, shit happens. And anyone who want the government to protect them from everything under the sun is an idiot, and not worthy of being included in the numbers of those who we call "Society."
    • by russotto (537200)
      Unfortunately, it's worse than that.

      If you do nothing, 80% of the people attack you for doing nothing, 2% of people call you a fascist anyway. If anything goes wrong, 99% of people blame you.

      If you do something reasonable, 40% of the people attack you for not doing enough, 3% of the people call you a fascist. If anything goes wrong, 99% of people blame you.

      If you act like a fascist, 20% of the people attack you for not doing enough, 6% of the people call you a fascist. If anything goes wrong, 99% of the
  • by alen (225700) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @08:04AM (#21195217)
    people are spoiled and every time something bad unexpected happens they can't accept it. result of living in one of the safest and affluent societies on earth.

    so if something does happen the media jumps on it with all kinds of "investigative" reporting about how some insignificant clue had been dismissed or how some proposed law wasn't passed that could have prevented this. and they attack government agencies in the process along with congress getting involved with subpeonas and investigations. so the police to CYA just start to investigate idiotic things and bugging people
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by east coast (590680)
      You know there is a stinging truth to this:

      Not too long after the London bus bombings a local TV crew took it on themselves to see if they could infiltrate a local bus depot. So they get in and film themselves walking around buses and sitting in a couple of them. The go and disclose this on TV but never get brought up on charges themselves since it's such an embarrassment to the local transit authority.

      So what's it going to be, folks? Police, guards and cameras on every corner to satisfy the media? How mu
      • You're in London, right? With the world's highest prevalence of video cameras, but no way for citizens to get the records of where they lost their bag of groceries, and no way to know when the authorities use it to track protesters to get warrants to keep them away from the protests at Heathrow?
        • by idontgno (624372)
          The best warning you can get about the dangers of oppression is from the mouth of one being oppressed.
  • Beyond Fear (Score:5, Informative)

    by necro81 (917438) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @08:05AM (#21195231) Journal
    For those interested in hearing Bruce Schneier dispassionately and quite reasonably shred a lot of the "security" measures implemented since 9/11, I suggest reading his book Beyond Fear [amazon.com]. The subtitle says it all: thinking sensibly about security in an uncertain world. The book was reviewed [slashdot.org] on Slashdot not long ago.

    The book takes a very general approach to security, analyzing it with the most basic categorizations, while using very clear real-life examples to illustrate. The final chapters deal specifically with security against terrorism, particularly since 9/11. His conclusion is that, from a security standpoint, most of the measures put in place - additional airport scrutiny, massive centralized databases looking for suspicious patterns, the move towards national ID cards, etc. - are largely ineffective as security measures. The massive trade-off of decreased privacy and liberty coupled with enormous cost for these measures make them especially unreasonable. In short, the widespread perceived risk and culture of fear it has fostered has made our response to the new terroristic threat wildly out-of-proportion with the actual risk.

    It's mostly preaching to the choir here at Slashdot, but I think this book should be as widely read as possible.
  • by east coast (590680) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @08:07AM (#21195251)
    More likely the kind of reactions he's talking about has to deal with thrill killers. The 9/11 guys didn't do so much that was out of the norm to ring any real bells (yeah, yeah, I know, if you were there it would have set off the alarms in your head. yeah, I know that.) but the actions of thrill killers is often noticeable by those around them because of long time association and a change in behavior.

    But my real wondering is: Since when has Slashdot become the outpost for the war on terror articles? Everything posted here anymore seems to be political. What was that Taco was saying the other day about loosing control of his website? Dude, it's already happened.
    • by perp (114928)
      Since when has Slashdot become the outpost for the war on terror articles? Everything posted here anymore seems to be political. What was that Taco was saying the other day about loosing control of his website? Dude, it's already happened.

      Dude, go to your Preferences Homepage and decide what YOU want to see instead of whining that the world is not feeding you exactly what you want in some kind of IV drip. Blocking the Politics category makes /. at lot more readable.

  • I'm not normally one to disagree with Bruce, but...

    All security analysis, whether physical or electronic, starts with looking at patterns. An IDS is a perfect example, it looks for patterns and reports on them. Guess what, Bruce? IDS have false positives, a lot of them. It takes a trained security professional to analyze what the IDS thinks is an alert and determine whether it's a real threat.

    Eventually someone came up with IDS systems that analyze your normal IDS traffic, and start to alert on things t
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Alzheimers (467217)
      Also, on another rant. What's YOUR solution, Bruce? You tell us how NOT to do it, but you have no solutions yourself. Oh wait, you do... you tell us we should do EXACTLY what you rant against:

      Actually, he wrote a whole book on the subject. [slashdot.org] What have you done?
  • Would slashdot post a counter-terror expert talking about computer security if he had no experience whatsoever in that field?

    Then why would slashdot post a computer security expert talking about counter-terrorism or law enforcement when he has no experience whatsoever in that field?

    "It Just Don't Look Right" is a time-tested law enforcement mantra. It isn't something George W. Bush cooked up after 9/11 -- it's around because so many crimes, and so many terrorist plots have been busted up by investigati

    • by ChaosDiscord (4913) * on Thursday November 01, 2007 @11:35AM (#21198371) Homepage Journal

      Would slashdot post a counter-terror expert talking about computer security if he had no experience whatsoever in that field?

      If that counter terror expert offered cogent arguments, sure, why not? If the arguments are wrong, refute them, don't engage in the logical fallacies of ad hominem attacks and appeals to authority. Security isn't some magical concern that only a few high priests can speak on. Security is a day-to-day issue that everyone needs to consider. Security is a matter of government a politics, an area that every interested citizen can debate and try to influence our government.

      "It Just Don't Look Right" is a time-tested law enforcement mantra.

      Indeed, it is. And Schneier agrees (although he calls it acting "hinky," [schneier.com] a word a custom's agent used to describe someone's behavior that led to their arrest). But you're suggesting a false dichotomy between ignoring everything and calling in the most minor of suspicions. Schneier's proposal is pretty clear: you need knowledge to be able to accurately identify hinky. [schneier.com]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jvkjvk (102057)

      Then why would slashdot post a computer security expert talking about counter-terrorism or law enforcement when he has no experience whatsoever in that field?

      You seem to have missed the major point of what Bruce is on about. He's talking about counter-terrorism and law enforcement from a systems level. And on that level, what they are trying to do just won't work. It really has little to do with the underlying application, or with the specific details. And I don't believe that he is laking the experience to make the critique at the level he is going for, his argument seems to stem from the application os systems thinking to a real world situation, that's al

  • by EvilTwinSkippy (112490) <yoda&etoyoc,com> on Thursday November 01, 2007 @08:30AM (#21195539) Homepage Journal
    You expect people without a fundimental understanding of chemistry of basic physics to give you a realisitic threat assesment? These are the same folks who have conflated an urban legend about mixing two chemicals, and managed to make it so I can't take a bottle of gatoraid on a flight. And you remember right after 9/11, all of the guardsmen with guns at the airport? Well they all had empty clips.

    The real problem is these idiots are in charge. When we start to respect knowledge and wisdom, and elevate those posessing both in abundance, only then will this crap end.
  • eerily on topic. Like Scott Adams always seems to be.

    http://news.yahoo.com/comics/071020/cx_dilbert_umedia/20072010;_ylt=AsHWX_8k1pgqX8DTJODSMEkA_b4F [yahoo.com]

    (I'd post the "dilbert.com" link if my at-work web proxy weren't so restrictive.)

  • from tfa The problem is that ordinary citizens don't know what a real terrorist threat looks like. They can't tell the difference between a bomb and a tape dispenser, electronic name badge, CD player, bat detector, or a trash sculpture;
    or Meatwad [boston.com] Shake and Frylock
  • But you're also protecting yourself against ninjas and the Spanish Inquisition.
  • Don't broach the concept of mccarthyism as something new.

    In the 50's anyone who was different or did something frowned upon by conservative interests was black balled as a communist.

    welcome to the extreme end of the conservative vs liberal pendulum. The cycle seems to be 50-60 years.

    mid 1800's saw the radically liberal concept of emancipation.
    after that the condition of the lower class worker deteriorated until the establishment of organized labor in the early 1900's
    conservatism crept in again as the secon
  • by holophrastic (221104) on Thursday November 01, 2007 @02:45PM (#21201159)
    I was a Canadian tourist in Boston in April. I walked through Boston Commons Park at 10am on a beautiful Sunday morning, seven steps from my hotel. I said good morning to a few people in the park. Ten minutes later, two police approached and interrogated me. Apparently, some crazy women to whom I said "good morning" promptly left the park and reported me as a sex offender / pedaphile.

    The police were firm but polite in their in-park ten-minute interrogation. They said things like "maybe you shouldn't walk around in public parks." and "don't you think it's a bad idea to say 'good morning' to a complete stranger?". They believed me when I said I was Canadian -- after seeing my passport and driver's licence. (yeah, passport wasn't enough for them. I have no clue how they were able to authenticate an Ontario driver's licence, Massacheusets has something that looks like it's off a 1985 inkjet.)

    It was really just one crazy woman -- I greeted many people during the week, and others, notably injured Kelly, and also fishing Steve, were exceptionally nice.

    All the same, I was glad when they let me leave the country five days later.

The difficult we do today; the impossible takes a little longer.

Working...