Homeland Insecurity

The September issue of the Atlantic Monthly has a remarkable special report called Homeland Insecurity (not yet excerpted online). It features none other than Bruce Schneier. I am delighted to see Schneier's philosophical transformation -- from crypto-infatuated fortress builder to pragmatic watchguard -- detailed in a mainstream magazine. People who would never have read Secrets and Lies will read this excellent article, and I hope will ponder Schneier's message:

- Security technologies are brittle

- When they fail, they fail catastrophically

- Human judgment needs to govern the security process

The article concludes with a description of Counterpane's command center:

Highly trained and well paid, these people brought to the task a quality not yet found in any technology: human judgement, which is at the heart of most good security. Human beings do make mistakes, of course. But they can recover from failure in ways that machines and software cannot. The well-trained mind is ductile. It can understand surprises and overcome them. It fails well.

Mixing long stretches of inactivity with short bursts of frenzy, the work rhythm of the Counterpane guards would have been familiar to police officers and firefighters everywhere. As I watched the guards, they were slurping soft drinks, listening to techno-death metal, and waiting for something to go wrong. They were in a protected space, looking out at a dangerous world. Sentries around Neolithic campfires did the same thing. Nothing better has been discovered since. Thinking otherwise, in Schneier's view, is a really terrible idea.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2002/08/02.html#a362