Praise for Secrets and Lies

“Successful companies embrace risk, and Schneier shows how to bring that thinking to the Internet.”

–Mary Meeker, Managing Director and Internet Analyst, Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter

“Bruce shows that concern for security should not rest in the IT department alone, but also in the business office . . . Secrets and Lies is the breakthrough text we've been waiting for to tell both sides of the story.”

–Steve Hunt, Vice President of Research, Giga Information Group

“Good security is good business. And security is not (just) a technical issue; it's a people issue! Security expert Bruce Schneier tells you why and how. If you want to be successful, you should read this book before the competition does.”

–Esther Dyson, Chairman, EDventure Holdings

“Setting himself apart, Schneier navigates rough terrain without being overly technical or sensational—two common pitfalls of writers who take on cybercrime and security. All this helps to explain Schneier's long-standing cult-hero status, even—indeed especially—among his esteemed hacker adversaries.”

Industry Standard

“All in all, as a broad and readable security guide, Secrets and Lies should be near the top of the IT required-reading list.”


“Secrets and Lies should begin to dispel the fog of deception and special pleading around security, and it's fun.”

New Scientist

“This book should be, and can be, read by any business executive, no specialty in security required . . . At Walker Digital, we spent millions of dollars to understand what Bruce Schneier has deftly explained here.”

–Jay S. Walker, Founder of

“Just as Applied Cryptography was the bible for cryptographers in the 90's, so Secrets and Lies will be the official bible for INFOSEC in the new millennium. I didn't think it was possible that a book on business security could make me laugh and smile, but Schneier has made this subject very enjoyable.”

–Jim Wallner, National Security Agency

“The news media offer examples of our chronic computer security woes on a near-daily basis, but until now there hasn't been a clear, comprehensive guide that puts the wide range of digital threats in context. The ultimate knowledgeable insider, Schneier not only provides definitions, explanations, stories, and strategies, but a measure of hope that we can get through it all.”

–Steven Levy, author of Hackers and Crypto

“In his newest book, Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World, Schneier emphasizes the limitations of technology and offers managed security monitoring as the solution of the future.”

Forbes Magazine

Secrets and Lies


Bruce Schneier

Wiley Publishing, Inc.

Publisher: Robert Ipsen

Editor: Carol Long

Managing Editor: Micheline Frederick

Associate New Media Editor: Brian Snapp

Text Design and Composition: North Market Street Graphics

Designations used by companies to distinguish their products are often claimed as trademarks. In all instances where Wiley Publishing, Inc., is aware of a claim, the product names appear in initial capital or ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Readers, however, should contact the appropriate companies for more complete information regarding trademarks and registration.

Copyright © 2000 by Bruce Schneier. All rights reserved. Chapter 1, Introduction, copyright © 2004 by Bruce Schneier. All rights reserved.

Published by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana

Published simultaneously in Canada.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise, except as permitted under Sections 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, (978) 750-8400, fax (978) 646-8700. Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Legal Department, Wiley Publishing, Inc., 10475 Crosspoint Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46256, (317) 572-3447, fax (317) 572-4447, Email:

This publication is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is sold with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in professional services. If professional advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data:

Schneier, Bruce, 1963–
Secrets and lies : digital security in a networked world / Bruce Schneier.
p. cm.
“Wiley Computer Publishing.”
ISBN 0-471-25311-1 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN 0-471-45380-3 (paper : alk. paper)
1. Computer security. 2. Computer networks—Security measures. I. Title.
QA76.9.A25 S352 2000
005.8—dc21 00-042252

Printed in the United States of America.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

To Karen: DMASC


I have written this book partly to correct a mistake.

Seven years ago I wrote another book: Applied Cryptography. In it I described a mathematical utopia: algorithms that would keep your deepest secrets safe for millennia, protocols that could perform the most fantastical electronic interactions—unregulated gambling, undetectable authentication, anonymous cash—safely and securely. In my vision cryptography was the great technological equalizer; anyone with a cheap (and getting cheaper every year) computer could have the same security as the largest government. In the second edition of the same book, written two years later, I went so far as to write: “It is insufficient to protect ourselves with laws; we need to protect ourselves with mathematics.”

It's just not true. Cryptography can't do any of that.

It's not that cryptography has gotten weaker since 1994, or that the things I described in that book are no longer true; it's that cryptography doesn't exist in a vacuum.

Cryptography is a branch of mathematics. And like all mathematics, it involves numbers, equations, and logic. Security, palpable security that you or I might find useful in our lives, involves people: things people know, relationships between people, people and how they relate to machines. Digital security involves computers: complex, unstable, buggy computers.

Mathematics is perfect; reality is subjective. Mathematics is defined; computers are ornery. Mathematics is logical; people are erratic, capricious, and barely comprehensible.

The error of Applied Cryptography is that I didn't talk at all about the context. I talked about cryptography as if it were The Answer•. I was pretty naïve.

The result wasn't pretty. Readers believed that cryptography was a kind of magic security dust that they could sprinkle over their software and make it secure. That they could invoke magic spells like “128-bit key” and “public-key infrastructure.” A colleague once told me that the world was full of bad security systems designed by people who read Applied Cryptography.

Since writing the book, I have made a living as a cryptography consultant: designing and analyzing security systems. To my initial surprise, I found that the weak points had nothing to do with the mathematics. They were in the hardware, the software, the networks, and the people. Beautiful pieces of mathematics were made irrelevant through bad programming, a lousy operating system, or someone's bad password choice. I learned to look beyond the cryptography, at the entire system, to find weaknesses. I started repeating a couple of sentiments you'll find throughout this book: “Security is a chain; it's only as secure as the weakest link.” “Security is a process, not a product.”

Any real-world system is a complicated series of interconnections. Security must permeate the system: its components and connections. And in this book I argue that modern systems have so many components and connections—some of them not even known by the systems—designers, implementers, or users—that insecurities always remain. No system is perfect; no technology is The AnswerTM.

This is obvious to anyone involved in real-world security. In the real world, security involves processes. It involves preventative technologies, but also detection and reaction processes, and an entire forensics system to hunt down and prosecute the guilty. Security is not a product; it itself is a process. And if we're ever going to make our digital systems secure, we're going to have to start building processes.

A few years ago I heard a quotation, and I am going to modify it here: If you think technology can solve your security problems, then you don't understand the problems and you don't understand the technology.

This book is about those security problems, the limitations of technology, and the solutions.


Read this book in order, from beginning to end.

No, really. Many technical books are meant to skim, bounce around in, and use as a reference. This book isn't. This book has a plot; it tells a story. And like any good story, it makes less sense telling it out of order. The chapters build on each other, and you won't buy the ending if you haven't come along on the journey.

Actually, I want you to read the book through once, and then read it through a second time. This book argues that in order to understand the security of a system, you need to look at the entire system—and not at any particular technologies. Security itself is an interconnected system, and it helps to have cursory knowledge of everything before learning more about anything. But two readings is probably too much to ask; forget I mentioned it.

This book has three parts. Part 1 is “The Landscape,” and gives context to the rest of the book: who the attackers are, what they want, and what we need to deal with the threats. Part 2 is “Technologies,” basically a bunch of chapters describing different security technologies and their limitations. Part 3 is “Strategies”: Given the requirements of the landscape and the limitations of the technologies, what do we do now?

I think digital security is about the coolest thing you can work on today, and this book reflects that feeling. It's serious, but fun, too. Enjoy the read.

1. Introduction

It's been over three years since the first edition of Secrets and Lies was published. Reading through it again after all this time, the most amazing thing is how little things have changed. Today, two years after 9/11 and in the middle of the worst spate of computer worms and viruses the world has ever seen, the book is just as relevant as it was when I wrote it.

The attackers and attacks are the same. The targets and the risks are the same. The security tools to defend ourselves are the same, and they're just as ineffective as they were three years ago. If anything, the problems have gotten worse. It's the hacking tools that are more effective and more efficient. It's the ever-more-virulent worms and viruses that are infecting more computers faster. Fraud is more common. Identity theft is an epidemic. Wholesale information theft—of credit card numbers and worse—is happening more often. Financial losses are on the rise. The only good news is that cyberterrorism, the post-9/11 bugaboo that's scaring far too many people, is no closer to reality than it was three years ago.

The reasons haven't changed. In Chapter 23, I discuss the problems of complexity. Simply put, complexity is the worst enemy of security. As systems get more complex, they necessarily get less secure. Today's computer and network systems are far more complex than they were when I wrote the first edition of this book, and they'll be more complex still in another three years. This means that today's computers and networks are less secure than they were earlier, and they will be even less secure in the future. Security technologies and products may be improving, but they're not improving quickly enough. We're forced to run the Red Queen's race, where it takes all the running you can do just to stay in one place.

As a result, today computer security is at a crossroads. It's failing, regularly, and with increasingly serious results. CEOs are starting to notice. When they finally get fed up, they'll demand improvements. (Either that or they'll abandon the Internet, but I don't believe that is a likely possibility.) And they'll get the improvements they demand; corporate America can be an enormously powerful motivator once it gets going.

For this reason, I believe computer security will improve eventually. I don't think the improvements will come in the short term, and I think they will be met with considerable resistance. This is because the engine of improvement will be fueled by corporate boardrooms and not computer-science laboratories, and as such won't have anything to do with technology. Real security improvement will only come through liability: holding software manufacturers accountable for the security and, more generally, the quality of their products. This is an enormous change, and one the computer industry is not going to accept without a fight.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let me explain why I think the concept of liability can solve the problem.

It's clear to me that computer security is not a problem that technology can solve. Security solutions have a technological component, but security is fundamentally a people problem. Businesses approach security as they do any other business uncertainty: in terms of risk management. Organizations optimize their activities to minimize their cost–risk product, and understanding those motivations is key to understanding computer security today. It makes no sense to spend more on security than the original cost of the problem, just as it makes no sense to pay liability compensation for damage done when spending money on security is cheaper. Businesses look for financial sweet spots—adequate security for a reasonable cost, for example—and if a security solution doesn't make business sense, a company won't do it.

This way of thinking about security explains some otherwise puzzling security realities. For example, historically most organizations haven't spent a lot of money on network security. Why? Because the costs have been significant: time, expense, reduced functionality, frustrated end-users. (Increasing security regularly frustrates end-users.) On the other hand, the costs of ignoring security and getting hacked have been, in the scheme of things, relatively small. We in the computer security field like to think they're enormous, but they haven't really affected a company's bottom line. From the CEO's perspective, the risks include the possibility of bad press and angry customers and network downtime—none of which is permanent. And there's some regulatory pressure, from audits or lawsuits, which adds additional costs. The result: a smart organization does what everyone else does, and no more. Things are changing; slowly, but they're changing. The risks are increasing, and as a result spending is increasing.

This same kind of economic reasoning explains why software vendors spend so little effort securing their own products. We in computer security think the vendors are all a bunch of idiots, but they're behaving completely rationally from their own point of view. The costs of adding good security to software products are essentially the same ones incurred in increasing network security—large expenses, reduced functionality, delayed product releases, annoyed users—while the costs of ignoring security are minor: occasional bad press, and maybe some users switching to competitors' products. The financial losses to industry worldwide due to vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows operating system are not borne by Microsoft, so Microsoft doesn't have the financial incentive to fix them. If the CEO of a major software company told his board of directors that he would be cutting the company's earnings per share by a third because he was going to really—no more pretending—take security seriously, the board would fire him. If I were on the board, I would fire him. Any smart software vendor will talk big about security, but do as little as possible, because that's what makes the most economic sense.

Think about why firewalls succeeded in the marketplace. It's not because they're effective; most firewalls are configured so poorly that they're barely effective, and there are many more effective security products that have never seen widespread deployment (such as e-mail encryption). Firewalls are ubiquitous because corporate auditors started demanding them. This changed the cost equation for businesses. The cost of adding a firewall was expense and user annoyance, but the cost of not having a firewall was failing an audit. And even worse, a company without a firewall could be accused of not following industry best practices in a lawsuit. The result: everyone has firewalls all over their network, whether they do any actual good or not.

As scientists, we are awash in security technologies. We know how to build much more secure operating systems. We know how to build much more secure access control systems. We know how to build much more secure networks. To be sure, there are still technological problems, and research continues. But in the real world, network security is a business problem. The only way to fix it is to concentrate on the business motivations. We need to change the economic costs and benefits of security. We need to make the organizations in the best position to fix the problem want to fix the problem.

To do that, I have a three-step program. None of the steps has anything to do with technology; they all have to do with businesses, economics, and people.


This is essential. Remember that I said the costs of bad security are not borne by the software vendors that produce the bad security. In economics this is known as an externality: a cost of a decision that is borne by people other than those making the decision. Today there are no real consequences for having bad security, or having low-quality software of any kind. Even worse, the marketplace often rewards low quality. More precisely, it rewards additional features and timely release dates, even if they come at the expense of quality. If we expect software vendors to reduce features, lengthen development cycles, and invest in secure software development processes, they must be liable for security vulnerabilities in their products. If we expect CEOs to spend significant resources on their own network security—especially the security of their customers—they must be liable for mishandling their customers' data. Basically, we have to tweak the risk equation so the CEO cares about actually fixing the problem. And putting pressure on his balance sheet is the best way to do that.

This could happen in several different ways. Legislatures could impose liability on the computer industry by forcing software manufacturers to live with the same product liability laws that affect other industries. If software manufacturers produced a defective product, they would be liable for damages. Even without this, courts could start imposing liability-like penalties on software manufacturers and users. This is starting to happen. A U.S. judge forced the Department of Interior to take its network offline, because it couldn't guarantee the safety of American Indian data it was entrusted with. Several cases have resulted in penalties against companies that used customer data in violation of their privacy promises, or collected that data using misrepresentation or fraud. And judges have issued restraining orders against companies with insecure networks that are used as conduits for attacks against others. Alternatively, the industry could get together and define its own liability standards.

Clearly this isn't all or nothing. There are many parties involved in a typical software attack. There's the company that sold the software with the vulnerability in the first place. There's the person who wrote the attack tool. There's the attacker himself, who used the tool to break into a network. There's the owner of the network, who was entrusted with defending that network. One hundred percent of the liability shouldn't fall on the shoulders of the software vendor, just as 100 percent shouldn't fall on the attacker or the network owner. But today 100 percent of the cost falls on the network owner, and that just has to stop.

However it happens, liability changes everything. Currently, there is no reason for a software company not to offer more features, more complexity, more versions. Liability forces software companies to think twice before changing something. Liability forces companies to protect the data they're entrusted with.


This will happen automatically, because CEOs turn to insurance companies to help them manage risk, and liability transfer is what insurance companies do. From the CEO's perspective, insurance turns variable-cost risks into fixed-cost expenses, and CEOs like fixed-cost expenses because they can be budgeted. Once CEOs start caring about security—and it will take liability enforcement to make them really care—they're going to look to the insurance industry to help them out.

Insurance companies are not stupid; they're going to move into cyberinsurance in a big way. And when they do, they're going to drive the computer security industry. . .just as they drive the security industry in the brick-and-mortar world.

A CEO doesn't buy security for his company's warehouse—strong locks, window bars, or an alarm system—because it makes him feel safe. He buys that security because the insurance rates go down. The same thing will hold true for computer security. Once enough policies are being written, insurance companies will start charging different premiums for different levels of security. Even without legislated liability, the CEO will start noticing how his insurance rates change. And once the CEO starts buying security products based on his insurance premiums, the insurance industry will wield enormous power in the marketplace. They will determine which security products are ubiquitous, and which are ignored. And since the insurance companies pay for the actual losses, they have a great incentive to be rational about risk analysis and the effectiveness of security products. This is different from a bunch of auditors deciding that firewalls are important; these are companies with a financial incentive to get it right. They're not going to be swayed by press releases and PR campaigns; they're going to demand real results.

And software companies will take notice, and will strive to increase the security in the products they sell, in order to make them competitive in this new “cost plus insurance cost” world.


This will also happen automatically. Once insurance companies start demanding real security in products, it will result in a sea change in the computer industry. Insurance companies will reward companies that provide real security, and punish companies that don't—and this will be entirely market driven. Security will improve because the insurance industry will push for improvements, just as they have in fire safety, electrical safety, automobile safety, bank security, and other industries.

Moreover, insurance companies will want it done in standard models that they can build policies around. A network that changes every month or a product that is updated every few months will be much harder to insure than a product that never changes. But the computer field naturally changes quickly, and this makes it different, to some extent, from other insurance-driven industries. Insurance companies will look to security processes that they can rely on: processes of secure software development before systems are released, and the processes of protection, detection, and response that I talk about in Chapter 24. And more and more, they're going to look toward outsourced services.

For over four years I have been CTO of a company called Counterpane Internet Security, Inc. We provide outsourced security monitoring for organizations. This isn't just firewall monitoring or IDS monitoring but full network monitoring. We defend our customers from insiders, outside hackers, and the latest worm or virus epidemic in the news. We do it affordably, and we do it well. The goal here isn't 100 percent perfect security, but rather adequate security at a reasonable cost. This is the kind of thing insurance companies love, and something I believe will become as common as fire-suppression systems in the coming years.

The insurance industry prefers security outsourcing, because they can write policies around those services. It's much easier to design insurance around a standard set of security services delivered by an outside vendor than it is to customize a policy for each individual network. Today, network security insurance is a rarity—very few of our customers have such policies—but eventually it will be commonplace. And if an organization has Counterpane—or some other company—monitoring its network, or providing any of a bunch of other outsourced services that will be popping up to satisfy this market need, it'll easily be insurable.

Actually, this isn't a three-step program. It's a one-step program with two inevitable consequences. Enforce liability, and everything else will flow from it. It has to. There's no other alternative.

Much of Internet security is a common: an area used by a community as a whole. Like all commons, keeping it working benefits everyone, but any individual can benefit from exploiting it. (Think of the criminal justice system in the real world.) In our society we protect our commons—environment, working conditions, food and drug practices, streets, accounting practices—by legislating those areas and by making companies liable for taking undue advantage of those commons. This kind of thinking is what gives us bridges that don't collapse, clean air and water, and sanitary restaurants. We don't live in a “buyer beware” society; we hold companies liable when they take advantage of buyers.

There's no reason to treat software any differently from other products. Today Firestone can produce a tire with a single systemic flaw and they're liable, but Microsoft can produce an operating system with multiple systemic flaws discovered per week and not be liable. Today if a home builder sells you a house with hidden flaws that make it easier for burglars to break in, you can sue the home builder; if a software company sells you a software system with the same problem, you're stuck with the damages. This makes no sense, and it's the primary reason computer security is so bad today. I have a lot of faith in the marketplace and in the ingenuity of people. Give the companies in the best position to fix the problem a financial incentive to fix the problem, and fix it they will.


I've written two books since Secrets and Lies that may be of interest to readers of this book:

Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World is a book about security in general. In it I cover the entire spectrum of security, from the personal issues we face at home and in the office to the broad public policies implemented as part of the worldwide war on terrorism. With examples and anecdotes from history, sports, natural science, movies, and the evening news, I explain to a general audience how security really works, and demonstrate how we all can make ourselves safer by thinking of security not in absolutes, but in terms of trade-offs—the inevitable cash outlays, taxes, inconveniences, and diminished freedoms we accept (or have forced on us) in the name of enhanced security. Only after we accept the inevitability of trade-offs and learn to negotiate accordingly will we have a truly realistic sense of how to deal with risks and threats.

Practical Cryptography (written with Niels Ferguson) is about cryptography as it is used in real-world systems: about cryptography as an engineering discipline rather than cryptography as a mathematical science. Building real-world cryptographic systems is vastly different from the abstract world depicted in most books on cryptography, which assumes a pure mathematical ideal that magically solves your security problems. Designers and implementers live in a very different world, where nothing is perfect and where experience shows that most cryptographic systems are broken due to problems that have nothing to do with mathematics. This book is about how to apply the cryptographic functions in a real-world setting in such a way that you actually get a secure system.


There's always more to say about security. Every month there are new ideas, new disasters, and new news stories that completely miss the point. For almost six years now I've written Crypto-Gram¸ a free monthly e-mail newsletter that tries to be a voice of sanity and sense in an industry filled with fear, uncertainty, and doubt. With more than 100,000 readers, Crypto-Gram is widely cited as the industry's most influential publication. There's no fluff. There's no advertising. Just honest and impartial summaries, analyses, insights, and commentaries about the security stories in the news.

To subscribe, visit:

Or send a blank message to:

You can read back issues on the Web site, too. Some specific articles that may be of interest are:

Risks of cyberterrorism:

Militaries and cyberwar:

The “Security Patch Treadmill”:

Full disclosure and security:

How to think about security:

What military history can teach computer security (parts 1 and 2):

Thank you for taking the time to read Secrets and Lies. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope you find it useful.

Bruce Schneier
January 2004


Computer security is often advertised in the abstract: “This system is secure.” A product vendor might say: “This product makes your network secure.” Or: “We secure e-commerce.” Inevitably, these claims are naïve and simplistic. They look at the security of the product, rather than the security of the system. The first questions to ask are: “Secure from whom?” and “Secure against what?”

They're real questions. Imagine a vendor selling a secure operating system. Is it secure against a hand grenade dropped on top of the CPU? Against someone who positions a video camera directly behind the keyboard and screen? Against someone who infiltrates the company? Probably not; not because the operating system is faulty, but because someone made conscious or unconscious design decisions about what kinds of attacks the operating system was going to prevent (and could possibly prevent) and what kinds of attacks it was going to ignore.

Problems arise when these decisions are made without consideration. And it's not always as palpable as the preceding example. Is a secure telephone secure against a casual listener, a well-funded eavesdropper, or a national intelligence agency? Is a secure banking system secure against consumer fraud, merchant fraud, teller fraud, or bank manager fraud? Does that other product, when used, increase or decrease the security of whatever needs to be secured? Exactly what a particular security technology does, and exactly what it does not do, is just too abstruse for many people.

Security is never black and white, and context matters more than technology. Just because a secure operating system won't protect against hand grenades doesn't mean that it is useless; it just means that we can't throw away our walls and door locks and window bars. Different security technologies have important places in an overall security solution. A system might be secure against the average criminal, or a certain type of industrial spy, or a national intelligence agency with a certain skill set. A system might be secure as long as certain mathematical advances don't occur, or for a certain period of time, or against certain types of attacks. Like any adjective, “secure” is meaningless out of context.

In this section, I attempt to provide the basis for this context. I talk about the threats against digital systems, types of attacks, and types of attackers. Then I talk about security desiderata. I do this before discussing technology because you can't intelligently examine security technologies without an awareness of the landscape. Just as you can't understand how a castle defended a region without immersing yourself in the medieval world in which it operated, you can't understand a firewall or an encrypted Internet connection outside the context of the world in which it operates. Who are the attackers? What do they want? What tools are at their disposal? Without a basic understanding of these things, you can't reasonably discuss how secure anything is.

2. Digital Threats

The world is a dangerous place. Muggers are poised to jump you if you walk down the wrong darkened alley, con artists are scheming to relieve you of your retirement fund, and co-workers are out to ruin your career. Organized crime syndicates are spreading corruption, drugs, and fear with the efficiency of Fortune 500 companies. There are crazed terrorists, nutty dictators, and uncontrollable remnants of former superpowers with more firepower than sense. And if you believe the newspapers at your supermarket's checkout counter, there are monsters in the wilderness, creepy hands from beyond the grave, and evil space aliens carrying Elvis's babies. Sometimes it's amazing that we've survived this long, let alone built a society stable enough to have these discussions.

The world is also a safe place. While the dangers in the industrialized world are real, they are the exceptions. This can sometimes be hard to remember in our sensationalist age—newspapers sell better with the headline “Three Shot Dead in Random Act of Violence” than “Two Hundred and Seventy Million Americans have Uneventful Day”—but it is true. Almost everyone walks the streets every day without getting mugged. Almost no one dies by random gunfire, gets swindled by flimflam men, or returns home to crazed marauders. Most businesses are not the victims of armed robbery, rogue bank managers, or workplace violence. Less than one percent of eBay transactions—unmediated long-distance deals between strangers—result in any sort of complaint. People are, on the whole, honest; they generally adhere to an implicit social contract. The general lawfulness in our society is high; that's why it works so well.

(I realize that the previous paragraph is a gross oversimplification of a complex world. I am writing this book in the United States at the turn of the millennium. I am not writing it in Sarajevo, Hebron, or Rangoon. I have no experiences that can speak to what it is like to live in such a place. My personal expectations of safety come from living in a stable democracy. This book is about the security from the point of view of the industrialized world, not the world torn apart by war, suppressed by secret police, or controlled by criminal syndicates. This book is about the relatively minor threats in a society where the major threats have been dealt with.)

Attacks, whether criminal or not, are exceptions. They're events that take people by surprise, that are “news” in its real definition. They're disruptions in the society's social contract, and they disrupt the lives of the victims.


If you strip away the technological buzzwords and graphical user interfaces, cyberspace isn't all that different from its flesh-and-blood, bricks-and-mortar, atoms-not-bits, real-world counterpart. Like the physical world, people populate it. These people interact with others, form complex social and business relationships, live and die. Cyberspace has communities, large and small. Cyberspace is filled with commerce. There are agreements and contracts, disagreements and torts.

And the threats in the digital world mirror the threats in the physical world. If embezzlement is a threat, then digital embezzlement is also a threat. If physical banks are robbed, then digital banks will be robbed. Invasion of privacy is the same problem whether the invasion takes the form of a photographer with a telephoto lens or a hacker who can eavesdrop on private chat sessions. Cyberspace crime includes everything you'd expect from the physical world: theft, racketeering, vandalism, voyeurism, exploitation, extortion, con games, fraud. There is even the threat of physical harm: cyberstalking, attacks against the air traffic control system, etc. To a first approximation, online society is the same as offline society. And to the same first approximation, attacks against digital systems will be the same as attacks against their analog analogues.

This means we can look in the past to see what the future will hold. The attacks will look different—the burglar will manipulate digital connections and database entries instead of lockpicks and crowbars, the terrorist will target information systems instead of airplanes—but the motivation and psychology will be the same. It also means we don't need a completely different legal system to deal with the future. If the future is like the past—except with cooler special effects—then a legal system that worked in the past is likely to work in the future.

Willie Sutton robbed banks because that was where the money was. Today, the money isn't in banks; it's zipping around computer networks. Every day, the world's banks transfer billions of dollars among themselves by simply modifying numbers in computerized databases. Meanwhile, the average physical bank robbery grosses a little over fifteen hundred dollars. And cyberspace will get even more enticing; the dollar value of electronic commerce gets larger every year.

Where there's money, there are criminals. Walking into a bank or a liquor store wearing a ski mask and brandishing a .45 isn't completely passé, but it's not the preferred method of criminals drug-free enough to sit down and think about the problem. Organized crime prefers to attack large-scale systems to make a large-scale profit. Fraud against credit cards and check systems has gotten more sophisticated over the years, as defenses have gotten more sophisticated. Automatic teller machine (ATM) fraud has followed the same pattern. If we haven't seen widespread fraud against Internet payment systems yet, it's because there isn't a lot of money to be made there yet. When there is, criminals will be there trying. And if history is any guide, they will succeed.

Privacy violations are nothing new, either. An amazing array of legal paperwork is public record: real estate transactions, boat sales, civil and criminal trials and judgments, bankruptcies. Want to know who owns that boat and how much he paid for it? It's a matter of public record. Even more personal information is held in the 20,000 or so (in the United States) personal databases held by corporations: financial details, medical information, lifestyle habits.

Investigators (private and police) have long used this and other data to track down people. Even supposedly confidential data gets used in this fashion. No TV private investigator has survived half a season without a friend in the local police force willing to look up a name or a license plate or a criminal record in the police files. Police routinely use industry databases. And every few years, some bored IRS operator gets caught looking up the tax returns of famous people.

Marketers have long used whatever data they could get their hands on to target particular people and demographics. In the United States, personal data do not belong to the person whom the data are about, they belong to the organization that collected it. Your financial information isn't your property, it's your bank's. Your medical information isn't yours, it's your doctor's. Doctors swear oaths to protect your privacy, but insurance providers and HMOs do not. Do you really want everyone to know about your heart defect or your family's history of glaucoma? How about your bout with alcoholism, or that embarrassing brush with venereal disease two decades ago?

Privacy violations can easily lead to fraud. In the novel Paper Moon, Joe David Brown wrote about the Depression-era trick of selling bibles and other merchandise to the relatives of the recently deceased. Other scams targeted the mothers and widows of overseas war dead—“for only pennies a day we'll care for his grave”—and people who won sweepstakes. In many areas in the country, public utilities are installing telephone-based systems to read meters: water, electricity, and the like. It's a great idea, until some enterprising criminal uses the data to track when people go away on vacation. Or when they use alarm monitoring systems that give up-to-the-minute details on building occupancy. Wherever data can be exploited, someone will try it, computers or no computers.

Nothing in cyberspace is new. Child pornography: old hat. Money laundering: seen it. Bizarre cults offering everlasting life in exchange for your personal check: how déclassé. The underworld is no better than businesspeople at figuring out what the Net is good for; they're just repackaging their old tricks for the new medium, taking advantage of the subtle differences and exploiting the Net's reach and scalability.


The threats may be the same, but cyberspace changes everything. Although attacks in the digital world might have the same goals and share a lot of the same techniques as attacks in the physical world, they will be very different. They will be more common. They will be more widespread. It will be harder to track, capture, and convict the perpetrators. And their effects will be more devastating. The Internet has three new characteristics that make this true. Any one of them is bad; the three together are horrifying.


Automation is an attacker's friend. If a sagacious counterfeiter invented a method of minting perfect nickels, no one would care. The counterfeiter couldn't make enough phony nickels to make it worth the time and effort. Phone phreaks were able to make free local telephone calls from payphones pretty much at will from 1960 until the mid-1980s. Sure, the phone company was annoyed, and it made a big show about trying to catch these people—but they didn't affect its bottom line. You just can't steal enough 10-cent phone calls to affect the earnings-pershare of a multibillion-dollar company, especially when the marginal cost of goods is close to zero.

In cyberspace, things are different. Computers excel at dull, repetitive tasks. Our counterfeiter could mint a million electronic nickels while he sleeps. There's the so-called salami attack of stealing the fractions of pennies, one slice at a time, from everyone's interest-bearing accounts; this is a beautiful example of something that just would not have been possible without computers.

If you had a great scam to pick someone's pocket, but it only worked once every hundred thousand tries, you'd starve before you robbed anyone. In cyberspace, you can set your computer to look for the one-in-a-hundred-thousand chance. You'll probably find a couple dozen every day. If you can enlist other computers, you might get hundreds.

Fast automation makes attacks with a minimal rate of return profitable. Attacks that were just too marginal to notice in the physical world can quickly become a major threat in the digital world. Many commercial systems just don't sweat the small stuff; it's cheaper to ignore it than to fix it. They will have to think differently with digital systems.

Cyberspace also opens vast new avenues for violating someone's privacy, often simply a result of automation. Suppose you have a marketing campaign tied to rich, penguin-loving, stamp-collecting Elbonians with children. It's laborious to walk around town and find wealthy Elbonians with children, who like penguins, and are interested in stamps. On the right computer network, it's easy to correlate a marketing database of zip codes of a certain income with birth or motor vehicle records, posts to rec.collecting.stamps, and penguin-book purchases at The Internet has search tools that can collect every Usenet posting a person ever made. Paper data, even if it is public, is hard to search and hard to correlate. Computerized data can be searched easily. Networked data can be searched remotely and correlated with other databases.

Under some circumstances, looking at this kind of data is illegal. People, often employees, have been prosecuted for peeking at confidential police or IRS files. Under other circumstances, it's called data mining and is entirely legal. For example, the big credit database companies, Experian (formerly TRW), TransUnion, and Equifax, have mounds of data about nearly everyone in the United States. These data are collected, collated, and sold to anyone willing to pay for it. Credit card databases have a mind-boggling amount of information about individuals' spending habits: where they shop, where they eat, what kind of vacations they take—it's all there for the taking. DoubleClick is trying to build a database of individual Web-surfing habits. Even grocery stores are giving out frequent shopper cards, allowing them to collect data about the food-buying proclivities of individual shoppers. Acxiom is a company that specializes in the aggregation of public and private databases.

The news here is not that the data are out there, but how easily they can be collected, used, and abused. And it will get worse: More data are being collected. Banks, airlines, catalog companies, medical insurers are all saving personal information. Many Web sites collect and sell personal data. And why not? Data storage is cheap, and maybe it will be useful some day. These diverse data archives are moving onto the public networks. And more and more data are being combined and cross-referenced. Automation makes it all easy.

Action at a Distance

As technology pundits like to point out, the Internet has no borders or natural boundaries. Every two points are adjacent, whether they are across the hall or across the planet. It's just as easy to log on to a computer in Tulsa from a computer in Tunisia as it is from one in Tallahassee. Don't like the censorship laws or computer crime statutes in your country? Find a country more to your liking. Countries like Singapore have tried to limit their citizens' abilities to search the Web, but the way the Internet is built makes blocking off parts of it unfeasible. As John Gilmore opined, “The Internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it.”

This means that Internet attackers don't have to be anywhere near their prey. An attacker could sit behind a computer in St. Petersburg and attack Citibank's computers in New York. This has enormous security implications. If you were building a warehouse in Buffalo, you'd only have to worry about the set of criminals who would consider driving to Buffalo and breaking into your warehouse. Since on the Internet every computer is equidistant from every other computer, you have to worry about all the criminals in the world.

The global nature of the Internet complicates criminal investigation and prosecution, too. Finding attackers adroit at concealing their whereabouts can be near impossible, and even if you do find them, what do you do then? And crime is only defined with respect to political borders. But if the Internet has no physical “area” to control, who polices it?

So far, every jurisdiction that possibly can lay a claim to the Internet has tried to. Does the data originate in Germany? Then it is subject to German law. Does it terminate in the United States? Then it had better suit the American government. Does it pass through France? If so, the French authorities want a say in qu'il s'est passé.