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Book Review: Surveillance, Treachery and Trust Online

Look Who’s Watching: Surveillance, Treachery and Trust Online. By Fen Osler Hampson and Eric Jardine. Centre for International Governance Innovation;; 376 pages; Can$22.

1219-Book Review-Surveillance, Treachery and Trust Online-195w.jpgWhat happens when users lose trust in the Internet? How do they change their behavior if they suspect that someone is watching what they do online? How does access to the Internet impact the economy, and what are the economic effects of a lack of trust? For that matter, who is watching?

Look Who’s Watching: Surveillance, Treachery and Trust Online is a remarkable book that attempts to answer these questions. It’s a daunting task because cyberspace is a vast and sprawling place, filled with risk.

The authors make the intriguing argument that the entire Internet is held together by trust, and that when trust is lost, activity suffers. One example: When financial information is involved in a data breach, most users say they are unlikely to do business again with the company that experienced the breach. While this intuitively makes sense, the actual cost to breach victims is usually very low. So users are not reacting to a bitter experience—they are concerned about the potential damage of a breach. Businesses can lose not only their data—they can lose their reputation, customer base, and market share.

Both broad in scope and rich with detail, this book doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing cybersecurity, and the reader will find little about malware or ransomware. Instead it provides a solid education on the risks of the Internet from the perspectives of the user and of organizations whose future rests on online relationships with their users.

The threat landscape includes governments, technology giants such as Facebook and Google, criminals, and people who mine the Internet to find sensational and embarrassing information on others. Survey results help map the fears of the online public. Discussions of these vast, omnipresent threats present a bleak outlook. The last chapter attempts to address this, offering prescriptions for improvement that include Internet governance, good behavior, rules, and coordination. Effective solutions must rely on stronger international institutions, agreement across political and cultural boundaries, the taming of avarice, and…trust.

This book is strongly recommended for anyone interested in the impact that the Internet has on society, security professionals concerned with the risks of cyberspace, and people interested in privacy. It will also find a home with those who wish to learn about the Internet itself, because it effectively explains how things work—not just their consequences.

Reviewer: Ross Johnson, CPP, is president of Bridgehead Security Consulting, Inc. He is an ASIS International Council Vice President and author of Antiterrorism and Threat Response.