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

ISBN: 978-1-118-14330-8
384 pages
February 2012
Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive (1118143302) cover image


In today's hyper-connected society, understanding the mechanisms of trust is crucial. Issues of trust are critical to solving problems as diverse as corporate responsibility, global warming, and the political system. In this insightful and entertaining book, Schneier weaves together ideas from across the social and biological sciences to explain how society induces trust. He shows the unique role of trust in facilitating and stabilizing human society. He discusses why and how trust has evolved, why it works the way it does, and the ways the information society is changing everything.
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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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Author Information

BRUCE SCHNEIER is an internationally renowned security technologist who studies the human side of security. A prolific author, he has written hundreds of articles, essays, and academic papers, as well as eleven books that together have sold more than 400,000 copies. He has testified before Congress, is a frequent guest on television and radio, and is regularly quoted in the press. His blog and monthly newsletter at www.schneier.com reach over 250,000 devoted readers worldwide.
"The closest thing the security industry has to a rock star."
The Register
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"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)


"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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Do you think you've discovered an error in this book? Please check the list of errata below to see if we've already addressed the error. If not, please submit the error via our Errata Form. We will attempt to verify your error; if you're right, we will post a correction below.

ChapterPageDetailsDatePrint Run
Index Some Page References Are Off
Page references in the index are off by one page for references to pages 132-140, which should be 131-138, and by two pages for references to pages 141-250, which should be 139-248.
2/16/12 1 and 2
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Press Release

February 14, 2012
Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust that Society Needs to Thrive

Society runs on trust.  We have no choice but to trust that the random people, institutions, and systems we interact with will cooperate and be trustworthy.  We don’t need to trust completely or blindly, but we need to be reasonably sure our trust is well-founded.  But within this web of trust, the untrustworthy can thrive.  Much of the work of society centers around this tension between cooperators and defectors in society.  But not all defectors are bad – such as those that rallied against slavery.  Defectors change as society changes; defection can be in the eye of the beholder.

In his new book, LIARS & OUTLIERS:  Enabling The Trust That Society Needs To Thrive, world-renowned thought leader Bruce Schneier identifies how security can protect us from defectors; and what enables us to trust strangers at the local, national, and global scale.  “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,” says Schneier, author of eleven books, including the bestsellers Secrets & Lies and Beyond Fear.

LIARS & OUTLIERS introduces ideas from across the social and biological sciences to explain how society induces trust.  It demonstrates how trust works and fails in social settings, communities, organizations, and countries.  A leading expert on technology and security, Schneier explains why we need to understand our evolved security systems and their unique role in facilitating and stabilizing human society.  Most importantly, he explains how “cooperation” is defined by social convention, and that there are two kinds of “uncooperative” people:  those who are selfish, and those who are differently moral than the rest of society.

In the book he also explains:

The history and evolution of people and trust – and how to think of this relationship between society as a whole and its defectors as a parasitic relationship:  As societies became more social, they needed to learn how to get along with each other:  both cooperating and ensuring everyone else cooperated, too.  That’s never been truer than it is today; yet we’re still getting it wrong.

The problem isn’t trusting people; the problem is with the dilemma:  People are more complicated than societal dilemmas, i.e., choices between group interests and competing individual interests.  Our competing interests are more nuanced and varied, and they’re subjective and situational.  It’s more important we understand which societal pressures reduce the scope of defection, and how each should be scaled to keep society’s parasites down to a tolerable level.

The need to not only trust strangers, but trust systems and institutions:  It’s important to trust that defectors won’t take advantage of a group, but it’s also important to trust that institutions and systems won’t take advantage as well.  Although sometimes laws aren’t enough, institutional rules allow reputation to scale, by giving people a system to trust so they don’t necessarily have to trust individuals.  Systems are the last layers of defense – and the most scalable – against defection.

Real-world applications for understanding and scaling societal pressures:  There are a variety of competing interests that can cause someone to defect and not act in the group norm.  Today, this largely includes how certain societal dilemmas affect corporations; how major corporations can play one societal dilemma off another; and how increasing the power and scale of corporations can prompt them to do whatever illegal activity is under consideration.

Schneier’s message isn’t that defectors will ruin everything for everyone, but that we need to manage societal pressures to ensure they don’t.  Our global society has grown so large and complex that our traditional trust mechanisms no longer work.  Today’s problems require new thinking, and as World Economic Forum chairman Klaus Schwab so eloquently says, “Without trust nothing can be achieved.  LIARS & OUTLIERS is a brilliant analysis of the role of trust in society and business.”

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