[ISN] REVIEW: "Beyond Fear", Bruce Schneier

InfoSec News isn at c4i.org
Wed May 26 03:29:33 EDT 2004

Forwarded from: "Rob, grandpa of Ryan, Trevor, Devon & Hannah" <rslade at sprint.ca>

BKBYNDFR.RVW   20031219

"Beyond Fear", Bruce Schneier, 2003, 0-387-02620-7, U$25.00/C$38.95
%A   Bruce Schneier schneier at counterpane.com
%C   115 Fifth Ave., New York, NY   10003
%D   2003
%G   0-387-02620-7
%I   Copernicus/Springer-Verlag
%O   U$25.00/C$38.95 800-842-3636 212-254-3232 fax: 212-254-9499
%O  http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0387026207/robsladesinterne
%O   http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0387026207/robsladesin03-20
%P   295 p.
%T   "Beyond Fear"

It is instructive to view this book in light of another recent
publication.  Marcus Ranum, in "The Myth of Homeland Security" (cf.
BKMYHLSC.RVW) complains that the DHS (Department of Homeland Security)
is making mistakes, but provides only tentative and unlikely
solutions.  Schneier shows how security should work, and does work,
presenting basic concepts in lay terms with crystal clarity.  
Schneier does not tell you how to prepare a security system as such,
but does illustrate what goes on in the decision-making process.

Part one looks at sensible security.  Chapter one points out that all
security involves a balancing act between what you want and how badly
you want it.  An important distinction is also made between safety and
security, and the material signals the danger of ignoring the
commonplace in order to protect against the sensational but rare.  
Fundamental security concepts are outlined as well as risk analysis.  
Chapter two examines the effect (usually negative) that bias and
subjective perceptions have on our inherent judgment of risks.  
Security policy is based on the agenda of the major players, and
chapter three notes that we should evaluate security systems in that

Part two reviews how security works.  Chapter four introduces systems
and how they fail.  "Know the enemy," in chapter five, is not just a
platitude: Schneier shows how an understanding of motivations allows
you to assess the likelihood of different types of attack.  Chapter
six is less focused than those prior: it notes that attackers reuse
old attacks with new technologies, but it is difficult to find a
central thread as the text meanders into different topics.  Finding a
theme in chapter seven is also difficult: yes, technology creates
imbalances in existing power structures, and, yes, complexity and
common mechanisms do tend to weaken security positions, but the
relationships between those facts is not as lucidly presented as in
earlier material.  The point of chapter eight, that you always have to
be aware of the weakest link in the security chain, even when it
changes, is more straightforward, but the relevance of the
illustrations surrounding it is not always obvious.  Resilience in
security systems is important, but it is not clear why this needs to
be addressed in a separate chapter nine when it could have been
discussed in eight with defence in depth (or "class breaks" and
single-points-of-failure in seven).  The hurried ending is also very
likely to confuse naive readers in regard to "fail-safe" and "fail-
secure": Schneier does not sufficiently stress the fact that the two
concepts are not only different, but frequently in conflict.  Chapter
ten notes that people are both the strongest and weakest part of
security: adaptable and resilient but terrible at detail; frequently
surprisingly intuitive but often randomly foolish.

At this point the book is not only repetitive, but loses some of its
earlier focus and structure.  Detection and prevention are examined,
in chapter eleven, not as part of the classic matrix of controls, but
as yet another example or aspect of resilience.  Most of the rest of
the types of controls in the preventive/detective axis are listed in
chapter twelve, lumped together as response.  Chapter thirteen looks
at identification, authentication, and authorization (but not
accountability, which was seen, in the form of audit, in chapter
eleven).  Various types of countermeasures are described in chapter
fourteen.  Countermeasures with respect to terrorism are examined, in
chapter fifteen, both in general terms and in light of the events of
9/11.  What works is discussed, as well as what does not, and there is
an interesting look at the different roles of the media in the US as
contrasted with the UK.

Part three, entitled "The Game of Security," is not clear as to
purpose.  Chapter sixteen starts off by pointing out that the five
step assessment process is constant and never-ending--which begs the
question of how to determine when diminishing returns start to set in
on assessment itself.  However, there is good material in regard to
the actions you can take to influence decisions about security.  A
concluding editorial, in chapter seventeen, encourages the reader to
move beyond fear and think realistically about security and the
tradeoffs you are willing to make.

Some of the terms Schneier uses or invents may be controversial.  His
use of "active" and "passive" failures for the concepts more commonly
known respectively as false rejection (false positive) or false
acceptance (false negative) is probably much clearer, initially, to
the naive reader.  The concept is an important one, and so the
presentation of it in this way could be a good thing.  On the other
hand, does "active failure" completely map to what is meant by "false
acceptance," and, if not, how much of a problem is created by the use
of the new term?  Similarly, "class break" does indicate the
importance of new forms of attack, but the concept seems to partake
aspects of defence in depth, single point of failure, and least common
mechanism, all important constructs in their own right.  Schneier's
invention of "default to insecure" is not really any more
understandable than the more conventional terms of fail-safe or fail-

I recommend this book.  Unlike Ranum's, "Beyond Fear" has a more
significant chance of informing and educating the public on vital
issues of security.  Security educators will find a treasure trove of
ideas and examples that they can use to explain security concepts, to
a variety of audiences.  Security professionals are unlikely to find
anything new in this material, but Schneier's writing is always worth
reading, and this work is refreshingly free of the grating of
erroneous ideas.

copyright Robert M. Slade, 2004   BKBYNDFR.RVW   20031219

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