Bruce Schneier's "A Hacker's Mind"
A Hacker’s Mind is security expert Bruce Schneier’s latest book, released today. For long-time readers of Schneier, the subject matter will be familiar, but this iteration of Schneier’s core security literacy curriculum has an important new gloss: power.
If you’d like an essay-formatted version of this post to read or share, here’s a link to it on pluralistic.net, my surveillance-free, ad-free, tracker-free blog:
Schneier started out as a cryptographer, author of 1994’s Applied Cryptography, one of the standard texts on the subject. He created and co-created several important ciphers, and started two successful security startups that were sold onto larger firms. Many readers outside of cryptography circles became familiar with Schneier through his contribution to Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, and he is well-known in science fiction circles (he even received a Hugo nomination for editing the restaurant guide for MiniCon 34 in 1999).
But Schneier’s biggest claim in fame is as a science communicator, specifically in the domain of security. In the wake of the 9/11 bombings and the creation of a suite of hasty, ill-considered “security” measures, Schneier coined the term “security theater” to describe a certain kind of wasteful, harmful, pointless exercise, like forcing travelers to take off their shoes to board an airplane.
Schneier led the charge for a kind of sensible, reasonable thinking about security, using a mix of tactics to shift the discourse on the subject: debating TSA boss Kip Hawley, traveling with reporters through airport checkpoints while narrating countermeasures to defeat every single post-9/11 measure, and holding annual “movie-plot threat” competitions:
Most importantly, though, Schneier wrote long-form books that set out the case for sound security reasoning, railing against security theater and calling for policies that would actually make our physical and digital world more secure — abolishing DRM, clearing legal barriers to vulnerability research and disclosure, and debunking security snake-oil, from “unbreakable proprietary ciphers” to “behavioral detection training” for TSA officers.
Schneier inspired much of my own interest in cryptography, and he went on to design my wedding rings, which are cipher wheels:
And then he judged a public cipher-design contest, which Chris Smith won with “The Fidget Protocol”:
Schneier’s books — starting with 2000’s Secrets and Lies — follow a familiar, winning formula. Each one advances a long-form argument for better security reasoning, leavened with a series of utterly delightful examples of successful and hacks and counterhacks, in which clever people engage in duels of wits over the best way to protect some precious resource — or bypass that protection. There is an endless supply of these, and they are addictive, impossible to read without laughing and sharing them on. There’s something innately satisfying about reading about hacks and counterhacks — as authors have understood since Poe wrote “The Purloined Letter” in 1844.
A Hacker’s Mind picks up on this familiar formula, with a fresh set of winning security anaecdotes, both new and historical, and restates Schneier’s hypothesis about how we should think about security — but, as noted, Hacker’s Mind brings a new twist to the subject: power.
In this book, Schneier broadens his frame to consider all of society’s rules — its norms, laws and regulations — as a security system, and then considers all the efforts to change those rules through a security lens, framing everything from street protests to tax-cheating as “hacks.”
This is a great analytical tool, one that evolved out of Schneier’s work on security policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. By thinking of (say) tax law as a security system, we can analyze its vulnerabilities just as we would analyze the risks to, say, your Gmail account. The tax system can be hacked by lobbying for tax-code loopholes, or by discovering and exploiting accidental loopholes. It can be hacked by suborning IRS inspectors, or by suborning Congress to cut the budget for IRS inspectors. It can be hacked by winning court cases defending exotic interpretations of the tax code, or by lobbying Congress to retroactively legalize those interpretations before a judge can toss them out.
This analysis has a problem, though: the hacker in popular imagination is a trickster figure, an analog for Coyote or Anansi, outsmarting the powerful with wits and stealth and bravado. The delight we take in these stories comes from the way that hacking can upend power differentials, hoisting elites on their own petard. An Anansi story in which a billionaire hires a trickster god to evade consequences for maiming workers in his factory is a hell of a lot less satisfying than the traditional canon.
Schneier resolves this conundrum by parsing hacking through another dimension: power. A hack by the powerful against society — tax evasion, regulatory arbitrage, fraud, political corruption — is a hack, sure, but it’s a different kind of hack from the hacks we’ve delighted in since “The Purloined Letter.”
This leaves us with two categories: hacks by the powerful to increase their power; and hacks by everyone else to take power away from the powerful. These two categories have become modern motifs in other domains — think of comedians’ talk of “punching up vs punching down” or the critique of the idea of “anti-white racism.”
But while this tool is familiar, it takes on a new utility when used to understand the security dimensions of policy, law and norms. Schneier uses it to propose several concrete proposals for making our policy “more secure” — that is, less vulnerable to corruption that further entrenches the powerful.
That said, the book does more to explain the source of problems than to lay out a program for addressing them — a common problem with analytical books. That’s okay, of course — we can’t begin to improve our society until we agree on what’s wrong with it — but there is definitely more work to be done in converting these systemic analyses into systemic policies.
Next week (Feb 8-17), I'll be in Australia, touring my book Chokepoint Capitalism with my co-author, Rebecca Giblin. We'll be in Brisbane on Feb 8, and then we're doing a remote event for NZ on Feb 9. Next are Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. I hope to see you!
[Image ID: The WW Norton cover for Bruce Schneier's 'A Hacker's Mind.']
“Stan, playing the unhinged Max, follows up outrageous turns in Pam And Tommy, and another devious character in Fresh with a performance that rocks the room. “
The date is my favourite part of the episode (well everything is tbh) but the way Kiyoi is secretly smiling in his head about how good his man looks, and Hira just doesn’t see it because of years of internalised self hate and self depreciation because of how the world treated him.
Hira feels seen and safe by Kiyoi from the start it’s what he clinged to along with his beauty it was the catalyst in him the drive to make him want to stay alive and actually enjoy it, he finally found hope in the depths of his despair and yet we see he still is blind to himself.
Because that hate and pain don’t go away when it comes to how low he he feels. That love that should be poured on himself he gives it all to Kiyoi and that love then is poured onto him by Kiyoi in return who also wanted someone to love him whole heartedly.
People have no idea what they do to me, how perfect they fit for each other in this world that feels unsafe and unstable to them, they are each other’s safe zones, comfort, places to feel seen, allowed to be free, and allowed to cling onto something stable that grounds them, uplifts them and gives them joy to do life everyday. For 2 Years that’s all they saw in each other, and I’m so happy to have them back.
Review of a butterfly farm… 🦋
Penguin reviews coffee cups...
Not every Star Wars show should be Andor. We need our adventure serials. Our family friendly animated romps. Our big galactic epics.
But I wish every show put nearly a fraction of the amount of thought and care that Andor does into their writing and production. It’s a show that cares deeply about character and theme and as a result it feels more focused and more impactful when it aims for the big Star Wars moments. The Mandalorian is fun and all, but character has never been its strong suit and it’s certainly not concerned with any larger thematic ideas or messaging. I don’t need Mando to spend episodes at a time in brooding discussions about galactic espionage or offering up nuanced critiques of colonialism, but I want it to have something to say and have interesting characters say them. Is that so hard? I feel like I know more about the supporting cast of Andor after half a season than I do the literal protagonist of Mando after two full seasons and a spin off.
Also, by god, shoot on a set when you can. Do some environmental storytelling.
It’s going to be so hard to go back after this season wraps. The Favroni-verse is really going to have to step it up.
My latest video is about Video Games as Art, I don't give a clear-cut definition of what I think art is, but I criticise the construction of games as "art" purely in the lens of expensive, AAA blockbuster games that win many awards and get a lot of 10s and how that is damaging to the medium at large.
How The Last of Us created a culture of "demanding respect"
The review score obsession & harassment
Why do people hate Japanese Games?
If Games Mean A Lot To You
All Quiet on the Western Front (2022), directed by Edward Berger, follows Paul Bäumer, an 18 year-old German boy who volunteers to fight in WW1, fueled by discourses of patriotism and promises of a heroic status. Only when he's pushed to the front lines of the battlefield and faces the real horrors of war, he realizes there's nothing honorable about dying for his country.
It's very easy for war films to take sides or fall into a romanticization of the subject. All Quiet on the Western Front manages to avoid those clichès and brings together what is probably the best anti-war film ever made. Beautifully shot, with a haunting soundtrack and superb performances that glue together a message so powerful and more relevant than ever.
"Honor? My son was killed in the war. He doesn't feel any honor."
The titular wooden boy we got really encapsulates the beauty of this film. Built from messy tragedy, unclean in appearance, atmosphere, and attitude, but knows that having a powerful heart exists within. Can't cherish Guillermo enough for his dedication to making this a reality.
Understand the fact that this was in development hell since 2008, and we got this 7-10 years later. I'm calling it a masterpiece on passion alone.
Movie theaters would play YouTube reviews of the movie you're going to see. They were negative ones, and trailed off into different topics. You had to pay full admission to watch it, and they'd only be 10 minutes long.
“Middleton also deftly spars Stan, who has become one of the more reliable dark princes of the acting world—when he isn’t stuck glooming it up in various Marvel projects. Stan seems purpose built for a movie like Sharper, which asks him to be dashing and petulant, ruthless and bratty. He, Middleton, Moore, and the rest delight in the fun, substantial roles handed to them.”
Can confirm. Switching between English and other languages mid sentence is not only normal at my house, but also really convenient when the English word for things is too long.
Why the hell is an MST3K blog rising from the dead to review a forgotten Martin Scorcese film? I'd never heard of this movie until it suddenly became a meme, but I had a day off work and I figured I might as well see what all the fuss was about. Now I want to talk about what I saw, and this is the only movie blog I have, so I'm doing it here.
Ivan Goncharov is the biggest, baddest motherfucker east of the iron curtain, richer than a tsar and colder than a Siberian winter. He's got a beef with Neapolitan mafioso Mario Giglioli, so he heads to sunny Italy to confront him in person. His closest confidante, Andrey, thinks it's suicide to do this on Giglioli's home turf but accompanies Goncharov anyway out of loyalty. What follows is a two-hour dick-measuring contest as Goncharov and Giglioli try to out-intimidate each other, culminating in an orgy of gunfire where only one will be left standing... and this is the kind of movie where you can't take it for granted that it'll be the guy whose name is the title.
That's the ostensible plot, anyway. What makes Goncharov a far more interesting film than such an outline might imply is that the argument between the mobsters is just a backdrop. Having set up Goncharov's hard as steel, cold as ice reputation in the first act, the movie then sets about deconstructing it. Goncharov goes from a terrifying figure devoid of all morality to a tragic antihero, a man who has come to believe his own hype so completely that he can no longer let himself be human.
This is demonstrated mainly by watching the breakdown of his relationships over the course of the tense three days in Naples. The most important person in Goncharov's life is Andrey, the only one he comes near being vulnerable with. Their relationship is depicted as very touchy-feely in a literal sort of way, with Andrey helping Goncharov with his coat and shoes, lighting cigarettes for him, and touching his shoulder or arm as Goncharov confides in him. The framing emphasizes these touches in a very homoerotic way, and I don't think I've got my tumblr goggles on here. These guys have fucked.
As Goncharov becomes more and more obsessed with being tougher and more ruthless than Giglioli, whom he sees as an effeminate softie, Andrey tries to persuade him that the other man is not worth this sort of obsession. Whatever Giglioli did to insult Goncharov (we never find out), Andrey is of the opinion that they should just leave a dead horse in the asshole's bed and move on. Goncharov's pride will not allow him to do that, and the less subtle Andrey is in his attempts to dissuade him, the more Goncharov pushes him away, finally abandoning him entirely. The tragedy of the ending comes from the fact that Andrey refuses to abandon Goncharov in turn.
We also see Goncharov with his wife Katya. He is frequently cruel to her, and she tolerates it because he gives her expensive gifts and because she is seeking a vicarious mending of her relationship with her abusive father - she was never able to earn his love, but perhaps she can earn Goncharov's. This is doomed to failure, as much because of Goncharov as because Katya doesn't actually want it to succeed. Nursing a black eye, Katya pours her heart out to a bartender, Sofia, who tries to help her escape... but this cannot work out, either. As Katya herself says, she doesn't know who she is without her issues.
I am pleased to note, by the way, that every single major character in the movie is named and I can remember them all, which is a bit of a treat for me (I need to watch good movies more often). The only exception is Goncharov himself. The end credits list him as Ivan, but nobody ever calls him that, not even Andrey or Katya. In a flashback scene with his parents, neither calls him by name. This flashback, fascinatingly, is filmed in the first person, looking through Goncharov's own eyes. We are not allowed to see him as a younger, softer man. He refuses to show that side of himself even in the privacy of his memories.
These quieter moments contrast with scenes of ever-escalating brutality, as the Russians and Italians try to force each other to back down by the murder of underlings. The fact that it is literally a contest, and that Goncharov is aware of this and describes it as such, makes the worsening violence ever more meaningless. The death of Giglioli's confessor is particularly awful, and the way Goncharov's goons treat the chapel has to be ten times worse if you're Catholic (fun fact: this scene is apparently removed from the Italian version on Netflix, which must make what Andrey says while waiting for the train into a hell of a non sequitur).
At the climax, the two really can't do anything but kill each other, because it's the only place left to go. Giglioli's priest and mistress are dead. Goncharov's men are almost all dead or out of action, and Goncharov believes Andrey to be dead. The initial insult, whatever it was, is no longer relevant. They have pushed each other to a place where reconciliation is unthinkable. Whoever blinks first loses, but both have already lost so much that victory means nothing. Worse, each recognizes that the other is in the same position, and neither can acknowledge it.
This means Goncharov can also moonlight as an examination of violence in media. Why do movies showcase violence, and why do we watch it? The initial posturing serves a purpose - Goncharov wants Giglioli to know he's here to personally demand an apology, and Giglioli wants Goncharov to know he's outnumbered and should quit while he still can. But once it becomes an exercise in one-up-manship, the 'messages’ vanish and the men are now killing for the sake of killing. Violence in movies can often be gore for gore's sake, pulling out more and more stops in the effort to shock an audience that has been desensitized by years and years of this. That is what Goncharov and Giglioli are doing to each other. Truly distressing moments like the fate of the priest, or what Giuseppe "Icepick Joe" Cozzolino (dressed as a maid!) does to Sofia when he assumes she's Katya because she was in Katya's hotel room, make us wonder why we're watching this - and the mobsters wonder why they're doing it.
In the end, it's all just a blood-soaked version of the sunk cost fallacy. Goncharov had come too far in his vendetta to stop now. Andrey has followed him too far to turn back. Katya has been married to him too long to leave. Of course, any of them could quit at any time and escape from this terrible spiral, but they are unwilling to entertain the possibility. Like Goncharov himself, Andrey and Katya are prisoners of the identities they have built for themselves, and because their identities are so tied to him, they have to go down with him.
One thing I haven't seen a lot of discussion of on tumblr is the way the film uses the contrast in climate. Goncharov in Moscow is in his element. When you see his breath in the wintry air it's as if he's breathing smoke like a dragon. While other people huddle in the cold he stands up straight and tall. In Naples, on the other hand, he is out of place. He wears lighter clothing, but continues to choose long coats and upturned collars, while Giglioli goes around with his shirt unbuttoned. This should serve to emphasize Giglioli's home field advantage and yet, as we see through Goncharov's eyes, they just make Giglioli look soft. His apparent weakness makes Goncharov want to appear even stronger.
On a related note, it is interesting to me how sunlight is treated as something very unfriendly. In Russia, it glitters on ice crystals in the air and lights up condensation, harsh and white and giving no warmth whatsoever. In Italy it bakes and shimmers on stone and asphalt, casting harsh, black-edged shadows and emphasizing creased brows and frowning mouths. Outdoor scenes are, as far as I can tell, always hostile interactions. Even indoor scenes in natural light: the priest dies with harsh sunlight streaming in through the broken chapel window. When characters are softer with each other, it is always under artificial illumination. Sunlight is too bright, too revealing. People like this need some shadows to hide in.
Did I like this movie? That's a tough question. It's not really the type of movie you 'like'. It's definitely powerful and well-constructed, thoroughly absorbing and all that. There's a taste of Greek tragedy in the inevitability of the ending and the way Goncharov is eaten alive by hubris. But I wouldn't say I liked it. The characters are all terrible people whose arcs involve them getting worse, and the whole thing feels deeply claustrophobic, as if I, too, am trapped in Goncharov's downward spiral. When characters realize their mistakes, it is only when it's too late to correct them - but only in their own minds. It's a very pessimistic story, about human beings who are overcome by the very worst parts of themselves.
Is Goncharov deserving of all those glowing reviews? Yes. Was it unfairly snubbed at the Oscars because the academy was turned off by the violence? Probably. Will I ever watch it again? Fuck, no.
Excuse me, I have to go watch some Pixar movies if I ever want to smile again.