Blown To Bits

Schneier on Security

Sunday, January 4th, 2009 by Harry Lewis

Excellent book (really a collection of Bruce Schneier’s columns over the past half-decade or so). It’s repetitive in places, and the format (most pieces are a page or two in length) makes it hard to get into the depth of anything. But there are some wonderful facts and anecdotes about security of all kinds, not just cybersecurity. Two of my favorites:

  1. Airlines generally resist security measures, because they are costly, reduce ridership, and in the grand scheme of things don’t repay their costs since air terrorism is so rare. But they welcomed the practice of checking IDs to make sure the passenger flying is the one whose name is on the boarding pass. (Yes, there was a time when you could get on an airplane with just a ticket.) Why was this initiative welcomed? Because airlines didn’t like the aftermarket in discount coupons. They would send selected passengers a coupon good for a reduced price flight or a companion ticket, and people would sell them. Can’t do that now, since the TSA checks the boarding pass against a government issued ID. (Actually, you can do it, though I don’t recommend it. It’s not hard to produce a bogus boarding pass that matches your drivers license so you can get past security, and then use a different, valid boarding pass in someone else’s name to board the plane.)
  2. Campaigns urging ordinary people to speak up when they see or hear anything suspicious are a bad idea. They produce far too many false positives, which are disruptive and costly — once something is reported, the authorities have to respond. (We had a perfect example of this in Boston a few days ago, when a Muslim family was forced to leave an airplane, delaying the flight for everyone, when someone heard them discussing whether it was safer to be seated in the back of the plane or over the wings.)

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