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Bruce Schneier raises concerns with online anonymity

25 Sep 2012

Security Expert Bruce Schneier

Security expert Bruce Schneier has repeated arguments that only by creating a more moral, public internet can cyber security be improved.

Speaking at the V3 Security Summit, Schneier said trust in society is often formed from face-to-face interaction, familiarity and societal pressures like morals and reputations. However, such trust does not often exist online.

"We are naturally a moral species. On the internet we need to engage these morals, but it's a very different game as it's less personal and more anonymous," said Schneier.

"So it's really less about making a more moral internet and more about creating an internet where natural morality will work."

This is the argument outlined in Schneier's latest book, Liars and Outliers, which was published in February.

Schneier went on to question whether the anonymity people enjoy online was the cause for them behaving badly.

"There is talk about anonymity being a problem. Other studies show anonymity has nothing to do with morality," continued Schneier.

"But think of places on the internet that are more enjoyable - it tends to be the places where your friends are, or places where there may be strangers and it's anonymous but there is some sort of online community.

"Where the internet is cold and cruel are those places where people dip in and out and don't care about. You may draw an analogy to an inner city housing project as opposed to a community where people live."

Schneier said more work needs to be done in the sociology field in how communities, morals, ethics and reputation can work on the internet.

South Korea recently had its online real-name law overturned, legislation that would have meant citizens of the country were forced to use their real names on internet forums and social sites.

Schneier said he sadly believed governments in the rest of the world would inevitably adopt such a rule, even though there are many problems with it.

"Firstly you can't make it work. I can demonstrate that I can build an anonymous system on top of real name system so you can't technically design a computer network or social networking site that prohibits anonymity," said Schneier.

Schneier also argued the anonymity of the internet had helped save lives in some countries, where political tensions have been rife, underlining the complex nature of the debate.

V3 Virtual Security Summit

The V3 Virtual Security Summit is taking place on 25 September. All the videos will be available to watch on-demand for a three month period following today's broadcast. Please click here to watch any of the sessions now.


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Rosalie Marshall

Rosalie Marshall is the special projects editor and chief reporter at V3. Previously she was a reporter for IT Week and channel editor for online television site Rosalie covers government IT, business applications, IT skills, open source technology and social networks.

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