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

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

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

Bruce Schneier, ...

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

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

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

Liars and Outliers reaches across academic disciplines todevelop an understanding of trust, cooperation, and socialstability. From the subtle social cues we use to recognizetrustworthy people to the laws that punish the noncompliant, fromthe way our brains reward our honesty to the bank vaults that keepout the dishonest, keeping people cooperative is a delicate balanceof 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 butto substitute security for trust, compliance for trustworthiness.This progression has enabled society to scale to unprecedentedcomplexity, but has also permitted massive global failures.

At the same time, too much cooperation is bad. Without somelevel of rule-breaking, innovation and social progress becomeimpossible. Society stagnates.

Today's problems require new thinking, and Liars andOutliers provides that. It is essential that we learn to thinkclearly 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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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781118143308
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 2/21/2012
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 515,637
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Schneier
Bruce Schneier, books by Bruce Schneier, books on security, books about computer security, books about information security, security technology, societal security, security and society, how security affects society, security issues in society, security in an information society, philosophy of security, psychology of security, history of security in society, evolution of security, dishonest minority, security and the Prisoner’s Dilemma
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Table of Contents

A Note for Readers xv

1 Overview 1


2 A Natural History of Security 17

3 The Evolution of Cooperation 27

4 A Social History of Trust 41

5 Societal Dilemmas 51


6 Societal Pressures 63

7 Moral Pressures 75

8 Reputational Pressures 87

9 Institutional Pressures 103

10 Security Systems 123


11 Competing Interests 139

12 Organizations 155

13 Corporations 173

14 Institutions 195


15 How Societal Pressures Fail 207

16 Technological Advances 225

17 The Future 243

Notes 249

References 287

Acknowledgments 347

Index 349

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Interviews & Essays

Liars and Outliers Q&A

Q: In your book, Liars and Outliers, you write, "Trust and cooperation are the first problems we had to solve before we could become a social species—but in the 21st century, they have become the most important problems we need to solve again." What do you mean by trust?
A: That's is the right question to ask, since there are many different definitions of trust floating around. The trust I am writing about isn't personal, it's societal. By my definition, when we trust a person, an institution, or a system, we trust they will behave as we expect them to. It's more consistency or predictability than intimacy.

And if you think about it, this is exactly the sort of trust our complex society runs on. I trust airline pilots, hotel clerks, ATMs, restaurant kitchens, and the company that built the computer I'm writing these answers on.

Q: What makes people trustworthy?
A: That's the key question the book tackles. Most people are naturally trustworthy, but some are not. There are hotel clerks who will steal your credit card information. There are ATMs that have been hacked by criminals. Some restaurant kitchens serve tainted food. There was even an airline pilot who deliberately crashed his Boeing 767 into the Atlantic Ocean in 1999. Given that there are people who are naturally inclined to be untrustworthy, how does society keep their damage to a minimum? We use what I call societal pressures: morals and reputation are two, laws are another, and security systems are a fourth. Basically, it's all coercion. We coerce people into behaving in a trustworthy manner because society will fall apart if they don't.

Q: But even with all of that, not everyone is trustworthy.
A: Exactly. No society is 100% trustworthy. The trick is to ensure that the minority of people who cheat, steal, or otherwise break the rules don't ruin everything for everyone. Take theft as an example. Our society requires that everyone respect the property rights of others. We need the rate of theft in society to be small enough so that we all basically trust each other. If the rate of theft gets too high, we might implement more societal pressures such as increased police protection and better locks on our doors. If the rate of theft gets very low, we might stop worrying about locking our doors. But no matter what we do, we'll never get the rate of theft down to zero.

Q: So it's a constant back and forth between the criminals and society.
A: Exactly. Criminals figure out new ways to steal things, and society has to respond with new ways of protecting property. This dynamic is especially important in periods of rapid technological change, like today. Technological advancements, particularly around the Internet, are changing the ways people can behave contrary to society's rules. Society needs to be nimble in defense, otherwise the untrustworthy will do too much damage.

Q: What makes Liars and Outliers so relevant in today's society?
A: As our systems—whether social systems like Facebook or political systems like Congress—get more complex, the destructive potential of defectors becomes greater. To use another term from the book, the scope of defection increases with more technology. This means that the societal pressures we traditionally put in place to limit defections no longer work, and we need to rethink security. It's easy to see this in terms of terrorism: one of the reasons terrorists are so scary today is that they can do more damage to society than the terrorists of 20 years ago could—and future technological developments will make the terrorists of 20 years from now scarier still.

Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading Liars and Outliers?
A: I can do no better than quote from the first chapter: "This book represents my attempt to develop a full-fledged theory of coercion and how it enables compliance and trust within groups. My goal is to rephrase some of those questions and provide a new framework for analysis. I offer new perspectives, and a broader spectrum of what's possible. Perspectives frame thinking, and sometimes asking new questions is the catalyst to greater understanding. It's my hope that this book can give people an illuminating new framework with which to help understand the world."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2014

    Highly recommended for the philosopher in all of us

    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.

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  • Posted February 10, 2013

    Why do I trust that my neighbor won't burgle my house while I'm

    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.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2012

    A considered look at security

    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.

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  • Posted September 6, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    The first chapters of Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust Tha

    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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    Posted February 16, 2012

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    Posted June 10, 2012

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    Posted March 3, 2012

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    Posted April 7, 2012

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