Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War Paperback – March 28, 2017
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“A consistently eye-opening history of our government’s efforts to effectively manage our national security in the face of the largely open global communications network established by the World Wide Web. . . . The great strengths of Dark Territory . . . are the depth of its reporting and the breadth of its ambition. . . . The result is not just a page-turner but consistently surprising. . . . One of the most important themes that emerges from Mr. Kaplan’s nuanced narrative is the extent to which defense and offense are very much two sides of the same coin. . . . The biggest surprise of Dark Territory is the identity of the most prominent domestic heroes and villains in the “secret history.” . . . Dark Territory is the rare tome that leaves the reader feeling generally good about their civilian and military leadership.”, The New York Times
“A book that grips, informs and alarms, finely researched and lucidly related.” -- John le Carré
“Comprehensively reported history . . . The book’s central question is how should we think about war, retaliation, and defense when our technologically advanced reliance on computers is also our greatest vulnerability?”, The New Yorker
“Dark Territory captures the troubling but engrossing narrative of America’s struggle to both exploit the opportunities and defend against the risks of a new era of global cyber-insecurity. Assiduously and industriously reported. . . . Kaplan recapitulates one hack after another, building a portrait of bewildering systemic insecurity in the cyber domain. . . . One of the deep insights of Dark Territory is the historical understanding by both theorists and practitioners that cybersecurity is a dynamic game of offense and defense, each function oscillating in perpetual competition.”, The Washington Post
Dark Territory offers thrilling insights into high-level politics, eccentric computer hackers and information warfare. In 15 chapters—some of them named after classified codenames and official (and unofficial) hacking exercises—Kaplan has encapsulated the past, present and future of cyber war., The Financial Express
“An important, disturbing, and gripping history arguing convincingly that, as of 2015, no defense exists against a resourceful cyberattack.”, Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Kaplan dives into a topic which could end up being just as transformational to national security affairs as the nuclear age was. The book opens fast and builds from there, providing insights from research that even professionals directly involved in cyber operations will not have gleaned. . . . You will love this book.” -- Bob Gourley, CTOvision.com
“The best available history of the U.S. government’s secret use of both cyber spying, and efforts to use its computer prowess for more aggressive attacks. . . . Contains a number of fascinating, little-known stories about the National Security Agency and other secret units of the U.S. military and intelligence community. . . . An especially valuable addition to the debate.” -- John Sipher, Lawfare
“Fascinating . . . To understand how deeply we have drifted into legally and politically uncharted waters, read Kaplan’s new book, Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War.” -- George F. Will, The Washington Post
About the Author
- Item Weight : 10.4 ounces
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1476763267
- ISBN-13 : 978-1476763262
- Product Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.38 inches
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Reprint Edition (March 28, 2017)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #116,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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A story stretching over five decades
Unlike previous treatments that I’ve read about the topic, which zero in on the vulnerability of the American economy to attacks through cyberspace, Dark Territory traces the history of our government’s slowly growing awareness of the threat, beginning nearly half a century ago. Then, a prescient Pentagon scientist wrote a paper warning about the dangers inherent in computer networks. Apparently, though, no one in a position to do anything about it paid much attention to him.
Kaplan identifies an incident fully fifteen years later in 1984 when President Ronald Reagan — a movie fan, of course — saw the film War Games. He queried the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at a top-level White House meeting whether it was possible for a teenager like the one portrayed in the film by Matthew Broderick to hack into sensitive Pentagon computers. When the chairman, General John Vessey, reported some time later that the feat was in fact possible, Reagan called for and later signed the government’s first policy directive on the topic of cyber war. But that, too, led to no significant change at the Pentagon or anywhere else in the federal government.
Dark Territory is filled with revealing anecdotes like this, based on what surely was top-secret information not long ago. Kaplan reveals many little-known details about the Russian cyber war on Estonia and Ukraine, the Chinese Army’s prodigious hacking of American corporations and the Pentagon, the massive North Korean assault on Sony, Iran’s disabling of 20,000 computers in Sheldon Adelson’s casino empire, and the successful US-Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear infrastructure. Kaplan also reveals the reason why US complaints about China’s cyber attacks have fallen on deaf ears: it turns out that the National Security Agency is attacking the Chinese government in much the same way. As The Guardian revealed in 2013, “the NSA had launched more than 61,000 cyber operation, including attacks on hundreds of computers in Hong Kong and mainland China.”
The book casts a particularly harsh light on the Administration of George W. Bush. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and other senior officials in the early 2000s cavalierly dismissed urgent reports from national security and intelligence officials that the threat of cyber war, and the vulnerability of the US economy, were growing at an alarming rate. Only under Bush’s successor did reality strongly take hold. As Kaplan writes, “During Barack Obama’s presidency, cyber warfare took off, emerging as one of the few sectors in the defense budget that soared while others stayed stagnant or declined.”
It’s difficult to understand how anyone who was awake could have failed to grasp the problem. For example, a war game conducted in 1997 was intended to test the vulnerability of the Pentagon’s computer systems within two weeks. “But the game was over — the entire defense establishment’s network was penetrated — in four days. The National Military Command Center — the facility that would transmit orders from the president of the United States in wartime — was hacked on the first day. And most of the officers manning those servers didn’t even know they’d been hacked.” Not long afterwards, the Pentagon was hacked in a similar way by two 16-year-old boys in San Francisco. And when national security officials widened the scope of their attention to encompass the country’s critical civilian infrastructure, such as the electricity grid, they were shocked to discover that the situation was far worse. The Pentagon eventually bowed to the warnings and implemented needed security measures. But private corporations blatantly refused to do so because they didn’t want to spend the money — and Congress declined to allow the federal government to make security measures obligatory.
Unfortunately, Kaplan’s book is poorly organized. It’s roughly structured along chronological lines but jumps back and forth through time with such regularity as to be dizzying. And it’s crammed so full of the names of sometimes obscure government officials and military officers that it becomes even more difficult to follow the thread of the story.
However, these challenges aside, a picture clearly emerges from Dark Territory: For decades the American public has been at the mercy of incompetent and pigheaded people in sensitive positions in the government, the military, and private industry — and we still are. Bureaucratic games proliferate. Politics intrude. Inter-service rivalries abound. Personal grudges get in the way. Repeatedly, some of those who are entrusted with the security of the American people make what even at the time could easily be seen as stupid decisions.
Other takes on cyber war
Last year I read and reviewed a book titled Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It, by Marc Goodman. I described it as “the scariest book I’ve read in years.”
Five years earlier, I read Cyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It, by Richard A. Clarke and Robert K. Knake. From the early 1970s until George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, Clarke filled high-level national security positions under seven Presidents, so he knows whereof he writes. (He resigned in protest over the invasion of Iraq, which he thought distracted the government from the real threats facing the country.) Not long afterward, I read and reviewed Worm: The First Digital World War, by Mark Bowden, a much more focused treatment of the topic — a case study, really — but equally unsettling.
Though less current, all three of these books are better organized and more readable than Dark Territory. Admittedly, though, Kaplan’s book reveals the history that is only hinted at in the others.
About the author
Fred Kaplan wrote five previous books about the nuclear arms race and other topics bearing on US national security. He was on a team at the Boston Globe in 1983 that won a Pulitzer Prize for a series about the nuclear arms race.
So, when I saw Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War by Fred Kaplan (@fmkaplan) I decided to take a look to increase my limited knowledge on this subject. I found the book to be an excellent primer on the subject, and very readable. Anyone concerned about getting lost in highly technical details need not worry: this is history, not how-to.
Dark Territory begins with a wonderfully apt anecdote about President Ronald Reagan taking in the movie WarGames in 1983 (full disclosure: it’s one of my favorite movies of that time period) before backtracking to address two landmark events: the creation of the computer network in 1967 and the founding of the National Security Agency in 1952.
From there the book follows a fairly linear course through key events in the years since 1990, beginning with the first Iraq War. I was aware of some of the incidents described but learned about a lot more. For me the only frustrating passages were the ones describing yet another US government committee or working group formed to review the threat of cyber attacks and provide recommendations. Yes, I know that’s how our bureaucracy ‘works,’ but still.
One point that I appreciated Mr. Kaplan making more than once was the recognition by key figures that whatever actions our government takes in the realm of cyber warfare are also actions that can be taken against us: there is a extremely fine line between offense and defense in the cyber domain.
As our world becomes increasingly more connected and controlled by machines, cyber security is a subject we’re all going to need to be smarter about. Dark Territory is a great introduction for those wanting to get started.