Originally published in Wired, 29 June 2006
I'm sitting in a conference room at Cambridge University, trying to simultaneously finish this article for Wired News and pay attention to the presenter onstage.
I'm in this awkward situation because 1) this article is due tomorrow, and 2) I'm attending the fifth Workshop on the Economics of Information Security, or: WEIS—to my mind, the most interesting computer security conference of the year.
The idea that economics has anything to do with computer security is relatively new. Ross Anderson and I seem to have stumbled upon the idea independently. He in his brilliant article from 2001, "Why Information Security Is Hard—An Economic Perspective," and me in various essays and presentations from that same period.
WEIS began a year later at the University of California at Berkeley and has grown ever since. It's the only workshop where technologists get together with economists and lawyers and try to understand the problems of computer security.
And economics has a lot to teach computer security. We generally think of computer security as a problem of technology, but often systems fail because of misplaced economic incentives: The people who could protect a system are not the ones who suffer the costs of failure.
When you start looking, economic considerations are everywhere in computer security. Hospitals' medical-records systems provide comprehensive billing-management features ...