Defeating the hacker

Security is for everyone

Book review Who is responsible for security? Everybody is, not just the security officer and his/her team. But it's a technical issue, right? A matter of firewalls, applying patches, installing programs that detect and remove spyware and viruses... Wrong again!

Security is largely (despite the efforts of vendors who want to sell you more "stuff") largely a people and culture thing – a company is more at risk from dissatisfied and unhappy employees misusing the authority they have been given, for example, than from that meeja bogeyman, the external hacker.

A holistic view of security is what makes Robert Schifreen's book Defeating the Hacker, billed as "a non-technical guide to IT security", so useful. Much security good practice is counterintuitive, but everybody working in IT should have a good understanding of security as a whole, not simply of a few pieces of security technology.

However, Schifreen's book isn't technical in the way the Anti-Hacker Toolkit by Mike Shema, Chris Davis, Aaron Philipp, David Cowen (reviewed by Pan Pantziarka here) is.

Actually, the non-technical billing is a bit misleading. Schifreen talks about ISO 17799 (the widely adopted information security standard) and is happy to suggest that you don't broadcast your SSID, and that you do enable WPA rather than WEP encryption when setting up wireless networking. The book is technical enough to be useful, but it isn't just a catalogue of software and hardware products to buy and configure.

Most chapters have five practical "action points" in a checklist at the end, which will help you implement a good security regime in practice. The book starts by recommending basic risk assessment and a review of the laws relating to IT security (such as the UK Data Protection Act) in your place of business. A whole chapter is devoted to information security policies, the lack of which is a key indicator of poor security practice. After all, without an agreed policy, how will you configure all that security hardware you'll no doubt be persuaded to buy?

There are 42 chapters covering everything from server security, firewalls and wireless networking to social engineering, ecommerce fraud, securing your premises and even business continuity planning.

Schifreen has a story to tell (he was the original teenage hacker, back when curiosity was a legitimate excuse) and the whole book is written in an accessible conversational style which makes it readable as well as practical and informative.

For instance, Schifreen writes: "I've seen large multinational companies suffer horrendous virus infections across many thousands of PCs because a board-level director (in one case it was actually the IT director) didn't think that the rules about email attachments should apply to them" – which illustrates the point that senior management buy-in and understanding is vital to security.

This book covers a lot, so the detail it can go into is limited, but it does give readers a very thorough grounding in security as a whole – and doesn't neglect the risk management and people issues as some books do.

You can argue about details, as always, but the content is pretty even-handed (for example, while it recommends automatic patching of Windows systems, which scares me a bit, it does mention the small risk that a patch will cause problems in itself, and describes ways to mitigate this). There is a website for this book, if you want to read a sample chapter.

Defeating the Hacker

Defeating the HackerVerdict: This is a useful book although its billing as a "non-technical guide to IT security"; is a bit misleading. It is technical enough to be useful, but isn't bogged down in technical details and jargon. It would be better described as a practical business-oriented guide to IT security – but it is definitely worth reading.

Author: Robert Schifreen

Publisher: Wiley

ISBN: 0-470-02555-7

Media: Book

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