Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive

Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive

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by Bruce Schneier

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We don't demand a background check on the plumber who shows up to fix the leaky sink. We don't do a chemical analysis on food we eat.

Trust and cooperation are the first problems we had to solve before we could become a social species. In the 21st century, they have become the most important problems we need to solve—again. Our global society has become so

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We don't demand a background check on the plumber who shows up to fix the leaky sink. We don't do a chemical analysis on food we eat.

Trust and cooperation are the first problems we had to solve before we could become a social species. In the 21st century, they have become the most important problems we need to solve—again. Our global society has become so large and complex that our traditional trust mechanisms no longer work.

Bruce Schneier, world-renowned for his level-headed thinking on security and technology, tackles this complex subject head-on. Society can't function without trust, and yet must function even when people are untrustworthy.

Liars and Outliers reaches across academic disciplines to develop an understanding of trust, cooperation, and social stability. From the subtle social cues we use to recognize trustworthy people to the laws that punish the noncompliant, from the way our brains reward our honesty to the bank vaults that keep out the dishonest, keeping people cooperative is a delicate balance of rewards and punishments. It's a series of evolutionary tricks, social pressures, legal mechanisms, and physical barriers.

In the absence of personal relationships, we have no choice but to substitute security for trust, compliance for trustworthiness. This progression has enabled society to scale to unprecedented complexity, but has also permitted massive global failures.

At the same time, too much cooperation is bad. Without some level of rule-breaking, innovation and social progress become impossible. Society stagnates.

Today's problems require new thinking, and Liars and Outliers provides that. It is essential that we learn to think clearly about trust. Our future depends on it.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One of the best books I've read this year is by a security technologist, Bruce Schneier. In Liars and Outliers, he sets out to investigate how trust works in society and in business, how it is betrayed and the degree to which technology changes all of that, for the better or the worse. Schneier absolutely understands how profoundly trust oils the wheels of business and of daily life." (Margaret Heffernan, CBS MoneyWatch)

"This book will appeal not only to customers interested in computer security but also on the idea of security and trust as a whole in society." (The Bookseller, 16th December 2011)

"This book should be read by anyone in a leadership role, whether they're in the corporate or political sphere... an easy read and the ideas and thoughts are profound." (Naked Security, February 2012)

"By concentrating on the human angle and packing the book with real world examples he has successfully stretched its appeal outside that of the security specialist to the more general reader." (E & T Magazine, March 2012)

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

"A rich, insightfully fresh take on what security really means!"
DAVID ROPEIK, Author of How Risky is it, Really?

"Schneier has accomplished a spectacular tour de force: an enthralling ride through history, economics, and psychology, searching for the meanings of trust and security. A must read."
ALESSANDRO ACQUISTI, Associate Professor of Information Systems and Public Policy at the Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University

"Liars and Outliers offers a major contribution to the understandability of these issues, and has the potential to help readers cope with the ever-increasing risks to which we are being exposed. It is well written and delightful to read."
PETER G. NEUMANN, Principal Scientist in the SRI International Computer Science Laboratory

"Whether it's banks versus robbers, Hollywood versus downloaders, or even the Iranian secret police against democracy activists, security is often a dynamic struggle between a majority who want to impose their will, and a minority who want to push the boundaries. Liars and Outliers will change how you think about conflict, our security, and even who we are."
ROSS ANDERSON, Professor of Security Engineering at Cambridge University and author of Security Engineering

"Readers of Bruce Schneier's Liars and Outliers will better understand technology and its consequences and become more mature practitioners."
PABLO G. MOLINA, Professor of Technology Management, Georgetown University

"Liars & Outliers is not just a book about security—it is the book about it. Schneier shows that the power of humour can be harnessed to explore even a serious subject such as security. A great read!"
FRANK FUREDI, author of On Tolerance: A Defence of Moral Independence

"This fascinating book gives an insightful and convincing framework for understanding security and trust."
JEFF YAN, Founding Research Director, Center for Cybercrime and Computer Security, Newcastle University

"By analyzing the moving parts and interrelationships among security, trust, and society, Schneier has identifi ed critical patterns, pressures, levers, and security holes within society. Clearly written, thoroughly interdisciplinary, and always smart, Liars and Outliers provides great insight into resolving society's various dilemmas."
JERRY KANG, Professor of Law, UCLA

"By keeping the social dimension of trust and security in the center of his analysis, Schneier breaks new ground with an approach that both theoretically grounded and practically applicable."
JONATHAN ZITTRAIN, Professor of Law and Computer Science, Harvard University and author of The Future of the Internet—And How to Stop It

"Eye opening. Bruce Schneier provides a perspective you need to understand today’s world."
STEVEN A. LEBLANC, Director of Collections, Harvard University and author of Constant Battles: Why We Fight

"An outstanding investigation of the importance of trust in holding society together and promoting progress. Liars and Outliers provides valuable new insights into security and economics."
ANDREW ODLYZKO, Professor, School of Mathematics, University of Minnesota

"What Schneier has to say about trust—and betrayal—lays a groundwork for greater understanding of human institutions. This is an essential exploration as society grows in size and complexity."
JIM HARPER, Director of Information Policy Studies, CATO Institute and author of Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood

"Society runs on trust. Liars and Outliers explains the trust gaps we must fill to help society run even better."
M. ERIC JOHNSON, Director, Glassmeyer/McNamee Center for Digital Strategies, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College

"An intellectually exhilarating and compulsively readable analysis of the subtle dialectic between cooperation and defection in human society. Intellectually rigorous and yet written in a lively, conversational style, Liars and Outliers will change the way you see the world."
DAVID LIVINGSTONE SMITH, author of Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others

"Schneier tackles trust head on, bringing all his intellect and a huge amount of research to bear. The best thing about this book, though, is that it's great fun to read."
ANDREW MCAFEE, Principal Research Scientist, MIT Center for Digital Business and co-author of Race Against the Machine

"Bruce Schneier is our leading expert in security. But his book is about much more than reducing risk. It is a fascinating, thought-provoking treatise about humanity and society and how we interact in the game called life."
JEFF JARVIS, author of Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live

"Both accessible and thought provoking, Liars and Outliers invites readers to move beyond fears and anxieties about security in modern life to understand the role of everyday people in creating a healthy society. This is a must-read!"
DANAH BOYD, Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University

"Trust is the sine qua non of the networked age and trust is predicated on security. Bruce Schneier’s expansive and readable work is rich with insights that can help us make our shrinking world a better one."
DON TAPSCOTT, co-author of Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World

"An engaging and wide-ranging rumination on what makes society click. Highly recommended."
JOHN MUELLER, author of Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them

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Liars and Outliers: How Security Holds Society Together 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book explores how and why societies form, and the factors that by and large induce the cooperation that is part of civilization. The material on morality will certainly challenge those who believe in absolute morality; nonetheless, the book is extremely well written. Highlights: defections are expensive; the most successful parasite does not kill its host.
unclben More than 1 year ago
Why do I trust that my neighbor won't burgle my house while I'm at work, and why do others not have that luxury? How does society try to prevent Joe Badguy from laundering money, and how/why do the systems & pressures supposedly restraining Mr. Badguy sometimes fail or even become counterproductive? Those are the kind of questions Mr. Schneier asks and answers. I think of the book a little like the Freakonomics series. Take some simple aspects of everyday life, the kind of things most people have never given a second thought (or a first thought for that matter), and look at them through new-fangled x-ray glasses that allow you to see the underlying mechanisms. Freakonomics looks at economic incentives, while Liars and Outliers looks at the effects of trust and of the various formal and informal systems that [try to] enforce and engender trust, and punish and deter those who are untrustworthy. The main reason I'm rating the book 4 stars instead of 5 is that I don't think Liars and Outliers has the same broad appeal as a book like Freakonomics. That said, I'm not sure this is such a bad thing. Freakonomics is so broadly appealing, IMHO, because it picks and chooses case studies for maximum impact and entertainment. Liars and Outliers, in comparison, takes a wider view and explains entire systems from masthead to keel and stem to stern. This leaves it a little drier and less of a page-turner than it otherwise might have been, but also allows for a broader analysis than would be possible in the Freakonomics style. For anybody interested in security (computer, physical, societal, or any other type) at all, I wholeheartedly recommend Liars and Outliers. The same goes for anybody who is a sociology layman but enjoys learning about new angles from which to view society and our interactions. The one and only thing that I truly disliked about the book is the footnotes, or should I say the you-need-two-bookmarks-and-have-to-constantly-flip-back-and-forth-between-your-current-point-in-the-book-and-the-notes-all-bunched-together-at-the-very-end-of-the-book notes. I know that it was the publisher's choice and not Bruce's, but it is an abomination and it should be burned at the stake alongside unskippable pre-roll commercials on DVDs, homeopaths, and Madonna's remake of American Pie. Bruce, the next time your publisher suggests using this non-footnote-note arrangement in a book of yours, kindly put on your best Chuck Norris grimace (you have the beard already) and apply your foot directly to his face, roundhouse style.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Schneier sets out to describe the social contract and how it applies to security, and does an excellent job with this compelling and well-written treatise.
phnx51 More than 1 year ago
The first chapters of Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive by Bruce Schneier, a book about the how and why of trust in today's world, were tough going but the balance of the book is well worth the effort. The work seems to be a psychological/sociological description and explanation of how trust comes to be. It seems to be a philosophical work as the author puts forth his ideas about how "defection" from the group expectations can be a positive and/or a negative - for example, people who ran the underground railway in the 1800s were defectors. The work is not a hands-on guide to developing security but is an excellent effort to investigate why we trust . . . trust that the piece of paper our employer gives us can be taken to the bank and exchanged for money or that the lost person at the door isn't really casing the house for a future break-in. As I said, the first chapters were difficult but the rest of the book became one it was difficult to put down. Fascinating.
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