The following are my answers to an interview for the ESRC’s Society Now – the original PDF magazine is available here:

[question]Is the world a more dangerous place today than it has been for a long time – or is it just our perceptions that have changed?[/question]

[answer]Our perceptions of threat and our expectations around what security we deserve are evolving, as is the nature of the threat itself. The landscape is shaped by global factors, such as geopolitical events and abuses of scientific innovation, and by local factors, such as community grievances and criminal activity. One of the significant contributions of the economic and social sciences is to better understand and anticipate this changing landscape so that governments and society can be better prepared. [/answer]

[question]Do we have unrealistic expectations of how secure we are?[/question]

[answer]It is unfortunately common for people to have “unrealistic expectations of how secure they are. For example, in 2013, the UK National Audit Office estimated the annual cost of cyber crime as more than £18 billion, and that 80 per cent of attacks would be prevented if people can be persuaded to implement simple computer ‘hygiene’. This makes it important to develop interventions and technologies that allow people, businesses and governments to act in a more secure way without compromising privacy or standard of living. This is a social science problem. Its about understanding why people act the way they do and what can be changed within society to enable them to act more securely.[/answer]

[question]Is it possible for a society to offer both privacy and security?[/question]

[answer]Yes, it is possible, but the solution almost inevitably involves a trade-off: our law enforcement and security services need information to be able to make judgements about whether or not somebody is a threat. They currently obtain this within a framework of legal restrictions and independent scrutiny that are designed to protect privacy. As society attaches greater value on privacy, so the proportion of information that is encrypted and therefore inaccessible to investigators increases. This may be where as a democracy we want to end up with our privacy. But it is not clear to me that we have truly understood what this means for our security, nor that we have had a sufficient public debate about what the trade-off means.[/answer]

[question]What are the major security challenges of our time?[/question]

[answer]Today’s challenges are a combination of longstanding threats that have evolved into new forms, such as the violence we continue to see in Northern Ireland, and relatively new threats, such as the large-scale cyber attacks that target UK Intellectual Property. The challenge is to stay one step ahead of these threats. To not only be tackling the imminent threats but also to be investing long-term through the refinement and development of new knowledge and techniques. The value of this investment can sometimes be harder to quantify – a challenge much of social science faces – but I remain convinced it is critical if we are to ensure a safe society in years to come.[/answer]

[question]Is countering security threats first and foremost about people, not about technology?[/question]

[answer]Yes, people will remain at the heart of our efforts to counter security threats for the foreseeable future. To be clear, technology is an enabler. It has radically changed how we collect and examine data, and how we implement security. But tackling security threats requires multi-agency co-operation, it requires making sense of very different forms of evidence, and it requires judgements about risk and proportionality that cannot easily be served solely by technology.[/answer]

[question]In what areas can CREST and social science contribute to government efforts to tackle security threats?[/question]

[answer]Social science can help us understand the complex individual and social factors that lead people and governments to attack our interests, as well as what might lead them to desist. Through research we can also better understand how to create societal and organisational cultures that encourage secure practices and make such attacks more difficult. The other area where social science is making a valuable contribution is in the investigation of threats. Research can help uncover the nature of decisions and team-working in fast- moving, high-risk environments, as a way to make practice more e cient and improve the welfare of personnel. It can also help us understand when, where and how people co-operate, which provides the evidence base for developing, for example, interview techniques that enhance memory recall and make deception easier to spot.[/answer]