Bruce Schneier: the internet is not doomed, but it is fragmenting

bruce schneierI had the pleasure of en evening with Bruce Schneier last night. Let me re-phrase that: I attended a BT event yesterday entitled “A Private Dinner with Bruce Schneier”.

Schneier, if you haven’t come across him, is BT’s chief security technology officer, author, cryptographer extraordinaire and philosopher-cum-infosecurity out-of-the-box-thinker.

Basically, what he says in info-security circles is usually listened to, although his propensity to tackle the subject more from a socio- or even biological perspective than a mere discussion of bits and bytes can make quotable extracts from a conversation with him pretty thin on the ground.

That said, Schneier was on form last night, focusing on the topic of trust and the notion that all systems, be they sociological, biological and so on, need co-operation to work. These systems also feature, inevitably, ‘defectors’, who don’t obey the rules and require security to keep their activities to manageable levels.

All fine and dandy, but what about the future? Does Schneier think we’re all doomed?

Well he certainly believes that the gap between the bad guys profiting from new technologies and the good guys catching up is greater than at any point in the past thanks to the sheer volume of new tech and the huge social change it is spurring, which is somewhat worrying.

However, there is hope that all is not lost. For one, he declared the bad stuff that happens online still a “tiny percentage” of the whole.

“I’m a short term pessimist but a long-term optimist,” he added.

As the older generation dies out things will gradually change too, he explained, as new norms around things like privacy come into play, and even the music industry is eventually be forced to change.

“The internet is the greatest generational gap since rock n roll,” he declared.

“People stealing music now are doing what will be normal in ten years’ time, they just figured it out first. The business model of scarcity doesn’t work.”

In less reassuring news, he argued that the balkanisation of the internet is likely to continue as national governments seek to establish their own controls – particularly appropriate given we were sitting in the Conrad Hong Kong, just a few miles from mainland China and the Great Firewall.

“It turns out the internet does have boundaries,” Schneier concluded. “Governments are enforcing their rules more and more and it makes for a less stable internet but it is the geopolitical future.”

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