Monday, January 11, 2010

Faveread: Schneier on security

If you are like me, you are tired of hearing about the attempted bombing on Christmas Day, especially because so much of the discussion -- especially in the US media -- is completely misleading. Don't even get me started on the various claims that we were never attacked while George W. Bush was in office. We are now to get these full-body scanners, even though they would not prevent such bombings.

For a more enlightened assessment, I highly recommend everything that security expert Bruce Schneier has written on the subject, especially his recent post, in which he points out all the things that worked:

The security checkpoints worked. Because we screen for obvious bombs, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab -- or, more precisely, whoever built the bomb -- had to construct a far less reliable bomb than he would have otherwise. Instead of using a timer or a plunger or a reliable detonation mechanism, as would any commercial user of PETN, he had to resort to an ad hoc and much more inefficient homebrew mechanism: one involving a syringe and 20 minutes in the lavatory and we don't know exactly what else. And it didn't work.

Yes, the Amsterdam screeners allowed Abdulmutallab onto the plane with PETN sewn into his underwear, but that's not a failure either. There is no security checkpoint, run by any government anywhere in the world, designed to catch this.

Importantly, his synopsis is invariably that we will simply have to learn to live with a certain amount of risk without panicking and giving up all of our freedoms:

The real security failure on Christmas Day was in our reaction. We're reacting out of fear, wasting money on the story rather than securing ourselves against the threat. Abdulmutallab succeeded in causing terror even though his attack failed.

If we refuse to be terrorized, if we refuse to implement security theater and remember that we can never completely eliminate the risk of terrorism, then the terrorists fail even if their attacks succeed.

Finally, isn't it rather fitting -- almost poetic -- that a Dutchman would prevent a bombing on a flight that started in Amsterdam? I just wonder why he had to cross over so many other passengers to get to the bomber.

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