Bruce Schneier is one of the foremost experts on cryptography and is a well-known security author and commentator. He is the founder of the managed security services company Counterpane, which was acquired in October 2006 by BT. Schneier sat down with IDG News Service at the Infosec security show in London to talk about the effectiveness of security products and the psychology of security.
IDG News Service: Are anti-virus products just making money by giving people a "feeling" of security rather than true security?
Schneier: Anti-virus is easy. Anti-virus products actually work. They have for years. A lot of the software on this show floor is just snake oil, but anti-virus does work. You should have an anti-virus program. You should have it updated regularly. It doesn't make you secure, but it gets that bottom layer of the trivial stuff. That's why. It's not sufficient but it's certainly necessary.
IDG News Service: People are tricked into downloading malicious software through social engineering. Have people become too conditioned -- mainly through watching television -- to also believe whatever appears on their monitor?
Schneier: Yes, but it's not television. People know the Internet is not television. People believe what they see on the Net not because of television but because of the trappings of reality. So when you got to BT.com, you see the BT logo, the BT font, the PR material, and you'll think, yeah, it's BT, like when you go to your bank, you see the logo, the tellers. That's real, that's expensive stuff.
On the Web, it could be a fake BT.com site and you don't notice because it's trivially easy to copy. So people do believe what they see on the Internet, not because of television, but because the Internet has the trappings of the real world. So all of those social cues you get to know to trust something -- it looks professional, nothing's misspelled, you see those things and you believe it's real. So yes, people are conditioned to accept it but it's from a whole variety of social conditioning.
IDG News Service: Do you think people will ever gain a greater suspicion of the Internet?
Schneier: Younger people have better bullshit detectors and they'll pick it up. But certainly you can always fool people unless there is some external validation of [Web sites]. Microsoft tried to do that. Unless you can do that, there's no guarantee you're not going to be fooled.
IDG News Service: How do we train our brains to be more perceptive?
Schneier: Experience. Understanding the threats.
IDG News Service: So what do you think is the biggest threat right now?
IDG News Service: So how do you fix it? It's expensive to investigate, it's cross-jurisdictional.