RSA Europe Cryptography guru Bruce Schneier called for more creative thinking and a broader perspective as a means to tackle security problems.
For example, the music industry, faced with an explosion in online file-sharing, hired security pros to develop anti-piracy measures, such as digital rights management technology. But these inconvenienced punters while doing little or nothing to stem copyright infringement. A better approach was making songs affordable and easy to buy, a model that has since lined Apple's deep pockets.
"This [the latter approach] is not something a security person would think up," Schneier said at the RSA Europe conference. "Security professionals would be too focused on building a better door lock."
As another example, the ability to rate buyers and sellers on eBay and compare their reputations works well, generally speaking, but it's something a security pro would be unlikely to conceive.
"Security professionals are just not trained to think up with this kind of technology," Schneier said, adding that approaches needed to be "broadened rather than changed".
He did highlight one piece of creative thinking from a security expert. Cambridge University's Ross Anderson says banks could display a customer's photo when someone is logged into that person's online banking account.
"It then becomes a question of stealing from this person," Schneier said. "It could reduce fraud."
Criminals innovate to new technology quickly while police detectives "are still following techniques from Agatha Christie novels" and typically take at least five years to catch up.
During a keynote presentation at the security conference, Schneier reiterated arguments from his recent book Liars and Outliers, which draws elements from sociology, game theory and other disciplines to talk about security in the context of wider society. He said wider societal pressures such as morals and reputation play a greater role against, for example, deterring theft than elaborate security defences.
"Security focuses on people who don't end up stealing because they can't pick the door lock," he said. ®