Trust and society: a review of Liars & Outliers by Bruce Schneier

Trust and society: a review of Liars & Outliers by Bruce Schneier

Liars and Outliers coverWhen I was asked to review this book I was very pleased as I was able to get away from my day job of researching and analysing new malware and spam. I’m not a book reviewer but here’s what I thought of his book.

Bruce Schneier’s new book, Liars & Outliers, is subtitled “Enabling the trust that society needs to thrive”, and the word ‘society’ is key here.

Unlike many of the books that Schneier has written, this is not a technical book but it does describe – clearly and concisely – the problems that we, the computer security professionals, provide technical solutions for.

He covers a breadth of topics, from history, anthropology and sociology, to game theory, economics and more. You don’t need prior knowledge of these subjects, though a college-level education or life experience would be helpful.

The book is divided into four sections:

  • Part I: The Science of Trust – covers the background sciences at a high level and introduces scenarios, such as the Red Queen Effect and Dunbar’s Number, that are revisited throughout the book at deeper levels.
  • Part II: A Model of Trust – explains the “societal pressures” – moral pressures, reputational pressures, institutional pressures and security systems – that are exerted on individuals to trust and to be trusting.
  • Part III: The Real World – expands the pressures to include groups and corporations and discusses how they complicate the situation.
  • Part IV: Conclusions – brings the ideas together in an easily digestible way.

After reading the book I had a large number of questions, such as:

How do you combat the 'IBG YBG' (I'll be gone, you'll be gone) business culture in which employees' short term interest works against employers' long term interests?

How do you enforce laws so they do not create an excessive burden on society while at the same time ensuring that the laws are sufficiently onerous for malefactors?

The answers to each are perhaps topics for further research in their own right.

This book should be read by anyone in a leadership role, whether they’re in the corporate or political sphere. And for anyone at C-level within a corporation or the equivalent level in government, this book is a must read.

Schneier’s observations, such as how employing a security guard can increase the rate of shoplifting and how taxing garbage/waste can lower the rate of recycling, demonstrate that more complex thought needs to go into decisions on structures and policies.

I enjoyed this book, it is an easy read and the ideas and thoughts are profound.

The book is available from February 21 in the USA and March 1 in the UK. We’re giving away a few free copies – find out how to be in with a chance of getting hold of one.