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Cyberphobia: Identity, Trust, Security and the Internet Hardcover – November 17, 2015
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“A remarkably clear, comprehensive and lucid exposition of the growing range of threats that challenge trust in the internet . . . an indispensable roadmap to regaining control of our online security.” ―Michael Chertoff, former US Secretary of Homeland Security
"As we move away from an earlier era’s digital naiveté and embrace a healthy paranoia about privacy and risk online, Mr. Lucas’s book reminds us of the need for tougher standards--not just for individuals but for the companies that have made the Internet our virtual home." ―Wall Street Journal
“An engaged overview of technology's strange new virtual hazards.” ―Kirkus
“A realistic view of what can (and cannot) be done on both the individual and at a policy level to protect privacy and deal honestly on the Internet. Useful for nonexperts wanting a larger picture of cybersecurity.” ―Library Journal
"[E]asily accessible for non-techies . . . Even informed readers will benefit from Lucas’s synthesis of chilling incidents . . . a wake-up call for citizens and their leaders alike." ―Publishers Weekly
"An enlightening, highly accessible look at security threats on the Internet, with sound solutions for protection." ―Booklist
"The central message of this alarming book is that 'our dependence on computers is growing faster than our ability to forestall attackers' . . . [Cyberphobia] makes a convincing case that hacking will becoming increasingly common." ―Sunday Times
"Not only does Cyberphobia lay bare the dangers of the internet, it also explores the most successful defensive cyber strategies, options for tracking down transgressors and argues that we are moving into a post-digital age where once again face-to-face communication will be the only interaction that really matters." ―Daily Telegraph
"Though convenient, [computers] can be dangerous. Lucas (a British journalist who writes for The Economist) joins others in delivering this warning, but he is more successful than most because he probes the subject without resorting to computer jargon and so conveys the nature of the threat to those who use computers without regard to the fact that they can jeopardize wealth, reputation, and peace of mind . . . Recommended." ―Choice
About the Author
Edward Lucas is a senior editor at the Economist. He has been covering Eastern Europe since 1986, with postings in Berlin, Moscow, Prague, Vienna, and the Baltic states. He is married to the columnist Cristina Odone. He is the author of The New Cold War, which has been published in more than fifteen languages, and Deception: The Untold Story of East-West Espionage Today. He lives in England.
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=== The Good Stuff ===
* Lucas tackles a few of the basics such as password hashing and cracking, spoofed email and webpages and drive-by attacks. In each case he explains the basic theory, gives a few details on how the techniques are used, and provides a brief outline of how the attacks propagate. However, he does not offer detailed suggestions for countermeasures or recovery.
* The author tries very hard to relate computer security to ideas that the non-computer geek can understand. For example, he relates many of the basic security features of modern operating systems to household keys and locks, a concept that will be familiar to most readers.
* Lucas also tackles some more esoteric topics such as cyber-warfare, government spying and commercial espionage. He does a very job on explaining the “zero-day” paradox, whereby a government finds a previously unknown security flaw in a commercial operating system. Does it notify the vendor so this vulnerability can be corrected, or does it hold the knowledge for use against its own targets?
* In total, Lucas covers a lot of ground and for most of the topics gives the reader a reasonable understanding of computer security, common attack strategies and motivations, and the total costs and burdens put on an organization. The writing is at a level that any competent PC user should be able to understand, and is written in simple and common language.
=== The Not-So-Good Stuff ===
* I was reading a galley proof, so hopefully there are plans for one more editing pass. This version was full of repeated information, often using the exact same words and phrases.
* Some of the examples and language became annoying. For example, Lucas relies on a fictional couple, Pin and Chip Hakhett, to explain how everyday users are targeted and attacked. To be honest, after reading about them for 150 pages, I was sick of hearing about them and rooting for the hackers.
* Perhaps my biggest complaint with the book was the level of technical detail. You can almost feel Lucas fighting with himself over how “techy” to make the book. Moreover, as often happens, the simple explanations become more convoluted than the original topic. For example, in trying to explain that a modern computer is really a series of subsystems, Lucas creates an analogy based on people moving between interconnected houses. I am still not sure I understand the reference.
=== Summary ===
The book is an effort to analyze the battlefield that is the modern computer/internet. There are any number of attackers, ranging from amateur “hackers” to sophisticated, government-funded organized attacks. Lucas attempts to outline the basic attack strategies, highlight why computers and networks are vulnerable and briefly describe countermeasures. Because of the length and scope of the book, these discussions are very limited and only represent the most general of overviews.
There is something in the book for most everyone, except security professionals. I suspect there will be more “techy” users frustrated with the book’s simplifications than there will be novices frustrated with the complexity. Still, the book is a reasonable summary and most computer users with an interest in security will probably enjoy it.
=== Disclaimer ===
I was able to read an advance copy through the courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.
Maybe mankind will learn, possibly this is going to be an accelerated form of evolution as society has seen such massive technological leaps in a relatively short period of time. The author seeks to dampen down fear and possible hysteria whilst taking a sensitive look at the risks that cybercrime can create. We can all play our part in reducing its growing footprint, no matter if we are mere users or high-up executives who should know better.
The type of cybercrime and cyberterror can vary, whilst one person’s credit card number being stolen at a restaurant is individually a bad thing, it is a lot different to a hacker shutting down a car travelling at 100 miles per hour along a motorway or turning off all of an aircraft’s systems at take-off. What about messing about with power stations and other sensitive infrastructure; best not to think too much about that. Lots of fun and games await, with potentially deadly, costly consequences. If it is not criminals and malicious people intending on causing havoc, it can be your country’s enemies; sometimes tomorrow’s enemies are today’s friends and partners…
The author lifts the lid on some of the activities that can plague us today. It is written in an open, accessible and demanding format, pulling the reader in without needing to add structures to scare them: the potential cold reality can do that for itself. The then director of America’s Central Intelligence Agency was quite forthright with his forecast in 1998, noting that “we are staking our future on a resource that we have not yet learned to protect” – nearly two decades later have we really made great leaps towards this utopian goal?
Many of the crimes undertaken are quite ingenious or simple on a theoretical level – such as breaking into a bank computer, grabbing debit card numbers and changing their access rights to make them limitless, before the details were sent to gangs in 27 countries who went, armed with copies of the cards, around emptying the accounts in a short time. One enterprising gang visited two thousand cashpoints in New York City alone. So if a criminal group can figure this out, why can’t a team of some of the brightest brains employed by banks and their suppliers do this and react ahead of time?
Some of the attack vectors are simpler and rely on people not knowing better or assuming things. It happened in the author’s own family, as he notes: “The easiest way to install malicious programs on other people’s computers is to get them to do it themselves. My daughter fell for this on her tenth birthday. I had given her a small £100 ($170) Asus laptop and told her to download Open Office (a free-of-charge program which has most of the functions of the much more expensive Microsoft Office). However, the top entry which came up on Google directed her not to the openoffice.org website, but to another one, where the download came accompanied by some unwelcome search software. This was Mindspark, produced by a legitimate company, but the subject of some controversy because of the way it operates. In my daughter’s case it modified her web browser, so that every search produced an avalanche of unwanted information and advertisements. Mindspark’s business model is based on funnelling computer users to its customers, and also selling data about browsing habits. There is nothing illegal in that – but it was not something that either my daughter or I had consented to.” The consequences, of course, could have been a lot more serious if someone else had a darker intent.
The book is giving; if anything it gave too much as it felt at times overwhelming. This reviewer is quite familiar with computer security and related matters and it managed to keep his interest; in the hands of an interested generalist one can imagine it could be liquid gold. It might encourage them to be a little more alert with their online usage. Of course, even the more experienced of us can get hit; whether by our own laziness, lack of attention or a new, hidden attack vector. We should always be on the alert.
Yet the book delivered what it promised and then some. One would rather there was not a need for a book like this, but there is, so there is no use crying about it. Acting to reduce the threat is the action word of the day. Get to it. Get the book and work on your defensive strategy.
To me, one measure of a non-fiction book's quality is how much useable information it provides. I found at least four different things in CYBERPHOBIA that I actually put into use. Some of it may just be common sense, but other things were security measures I would not have thought of.
So, overall, I found this a USEFUL book, not just a scary one!