Thursday, December 13, 2007

Easy Pickings?

Bruce Schneier picks up a story about the police putting warning stickers on vehicles with tempting parcels for the casual thief. [Conyers Police Department warns shoppers to protect valuables in cars, Rockdale Citizen, Friday, December 07, 2007] Bruce thinks the police are just helping the thieves.

In London, the Metropolitan Police put up notices, apparently addressing car thieves, advertising "Free Satnav in this area". Presumably the intended effect is to remind car owners not to leave their satnav in the car.

In contrast, in the city of Leicester, the police have resorted to handing out free cloths, to wipe the satnav marks from the windscreen. [Source: Leicester Police website] This appears to have exactly the same intended effect - to remind car owners about the vulnerability.

Obviously there is a risk that these warnings may sometimes trigger crime rather than help prevent it. But the principle of publishing vulnerabilities is based on the assumption that this information helps law-abiding people to defend themselves from attack more than it helps the attackers. (There are lots of comments in Bruce's blog discussing whether the same principles apply here as to software vulnerabilities.)

Even if these measures resulted in a short-term increase in the levels of crime, they might seem justified if the longer-term effect was to teach car-owners better security habits.


Scribe said...

I wonder at what point one wanders into the same trap as network security tools... i.e. to protect yourself from nasty people, one must first think as a nasty person. Security = paranoia, and the highest level of paranoia comes from knowing what can be done. But then, the very same knowledge is dangerous. The hypothetical vs the real. The imagined intruder vs the imagined victim.

Which is why, I think, concentrating purely on the tools and methods available to criminals is only ever a partial approach. Attitude - motivation, culture, psychology(?) - is a far bigger issue.

Richard Veryard said...

But why is it a trap?

The Father Brown approach to crime detection is to think inside the criminal. Chesterton presents this as an act of Christian empathy, a continuation of Father Brown's vocation as a priest.

Father Brown doesn't just care for the victims of crime, he cares for the perpetrators as well.

Someone who steals my satnav may have a drug problem. Obviously I don't want him to have my satnav, but perhaps I don't want him to have a drug problem either.

To protect yourself from nastiness, or for that matter to protect the perpetrators of nastiness from the effects of their own nastiness, you may need to think nastiness. I don't think this has to be a trap.

Perhaps the trap is to associate nastiness with nasty people. Nastiness may simply be a consequence of some complex history, which we possibly need to understand in order to deflect.