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Black Code: Inside the Battle for Cyberspace [Hardcover]

Ronald J. Deibert
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 21 2013

Cyberspace is all around us. We depend on it for everything we do. We have reengineered our business, governance, and social relations around a planetary network unlike any before it. But there are dangers looming, and malign forces are threatening to transform this extraordinary domain.

In Black Code, Ronald J. Deibert, a leading expert on digital technology, security, and human rights, lifts the lid on cyberspace and shows what’s at stake for Internet users and citizens. As cyberspace develops in unprecedented ways, powerful agents are scrambling for control. Predatory cyber criminal gangs such as Koobface have made social media their stalking ground. The discovery of Stuxnet, a computer worm reportedly developed by Israel and the United States and aimed at Iran’s nuclear facilities, showed that state cyberwar is now a very real possibility. Governments and corporations are in collusion and are setting the rules of the road behind closed doors.

This is not the way it was supposed to be. The Internet’s original promise of a global commons of shared knowledge and communications is now under threat.

Drawing on the first-hand experiences of one of the most important protagonists in the battle — the Citizen Lab and its global network of frontline researchers, who have spent more than a decade cracking cyber espionage rings and uncovering attacks on citizens and NGOs worldwide — Black Code takes readers on a fascinating journey into the battle for cyberspace. Thought-provoking, compelling, and sometimes frightening, it is a wakeup call to citizens who have come to take the Internet for granted. Cyberspace is ours, it is what we make of it, Deibert argues, and we need to act now before it slips through our grasp.

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Black Code is terrifying. It effortlessly chronicles threats ranging from individual privacy to national security…[highlighting] the shadowy, lucrative war online, behind closed doors and in the halls of power, which threatens to control, censor, and spy on us, or worse.”
National Post
“Gripping and absolutely terrifying. . . . Black Code is a manifesto for the 21st-century form of network stewardship, a sense of shared responsibility toward our vital electronic water supply. It is a timely rallying cry, and sorely needed.”
—Cory Doctorow, Globe and Mail

“Ron Deibert is an excellent guide to the fascinating and disturbing world of cyber security.”
—Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard, and author of The Future of Power
"For more than a decade, Ron Deibert's Citizen Lab has been at the forefront of decoding actions both crude and subtle to disrupt Internet access and usage. A path from the Dalai Lama's hacked laptop to a worldwide espionage ring is but one tale of many of the Lab's singular exploits -- now gathered here in this compelling volume that chronicles the ongoing wars amidst the Internet's rise."
—Jonathan Zittrain, Professor of Law and Professor of Computer Science, Harvard University, and author of The Future of the Internet -- And How to Stop It
“At a time when autocrats, criminal gangs and others are trying to control and pervert the use of cyberspace, Ron Deibert’s Black Code rings like a fire-bell in the night, warning us that the price of a new global commons of shared knowledge and connectivity is vigilance in defense of free expression and the rule of law. Anyone who cares about the future of democracy needs to read this timely and most important book.”
—Carl Gershman, President, National Endowment for Democracy

Black Code stimulated my thinking about the potential for making the Internet a much safer place.”
—Vint Cerf, Internet Pioneer

About the Author

RONALD J. DEIBERT is professor of Political Science and Director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, an interdisciplinary research and development “hothouse” working at the intersection of the Internet, global security, and human rights. He is a co-founder and a principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative and the Information Warfare Monitor, which uncovered the GhostNet cyberespionage network of over 2,500 infected computers in 103 countries. Deibert’s work has received frontpage coverage in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, International Herald Tribune, and New York Times. He lives in Toronto with his family.

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Things you need to know. July 31 2013
By opinions4u TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is definitely a MUST READ book for everyone who goes online! It really drives home the point that although the internet can be useful, we must be careful. There is no such thing as "privacy" online. Once you put something out there, you really don't know what happens to the information. A great book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is an important book, especially given the NSA leaks and whistleblower Edward Snowden. The author is the director of the University of Toronto Citizen Lab that has been dedicated to tracking the abuses of cyberspace for espionage and for human rights violations. The citizen lab is most well-known for reporting about the Chinese government network of cyber-spies and Ghostnet (tracking Dalai Lama's every day movement). But Deibert is linked to several international organizations that monitor the abuse of cyberspace by corporations and by governments (on all sides of the spectrum). The sections of the book that speak to the ways that governments monitor and seek to control cyberspace. Perhaps the most frightening observations of this book relate to how we have willingly made all aspects of our lives available to corporations and to those who see k to keep us in line and in our place.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Simple explanation of complicated topics Oct. 13 2013
Simply explains some complicated issues about how the internet is evolving WITHOUT getting too technical, legal or political. It is a great read that everyone who uses the internet should read, this includes people who just user their phone to download apps, games and send messages.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.9 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understand the deep story on NSA cyber spying June 24 2013
By N. J. Roese - Published on
This is not a book by a journalist who needs to ask experts to figure out the deep story. This is a book by a true expert who has spearheaded some of the most powerful investigations into internet spying. If you want some depth and perspective on the NSA scandal, look no further. Told in an engaging style, this is an essential update from the front lines of cyber crime and cyber warfare.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An unfocused and fairly non-technical summary of CitizenLab's achievements. Jan. 15 2014
By Tanya L. Crenshaw - Published on
This book is unfocused. If Ronald Deibert were a 12 year old boy at his school's show-and-tell explaining his achievements in soccer, I could forgive its lack of coherent themes. Notably, CitizenLab has done some pretty cool stuff, but this book just gives keywords that the reader must use to do additional research and figure out what CitizenLab actually accomplished.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a meticulous but accessible examination of threats to Internet stability / security July 16 2013
By Adam Thierer - Published on
Ron Deibert's book is a meticulous examination of the "malicious threats that are growing from the inside out" on the Internet and which "threaten to destroy the fragile ecosystem we have come to take for granted." Deibert is worried about the way various forces and factors are working together to undermine online stability and security, and even delegitimize liberal democracy itself.

The clear and colloquial tone that Deibert employs in the text helps make these arcane Internet security issues interesting and accessible. Some chapters of the book almost feel like they were pulled from the pages of techno-thriller, complete with villainous characters, unexpected plot twists, and shocking conclusions. "Cyber crime has become one of the world's largest growth businesses," Deibert notes and his chapters focus on many prominent recent examples.

Deibert is uniquely qualified to narrate this tale not just because he is a gifted story-teller but also because he and his colleagues at The Citizen Lab at the Univ. of Toronto have occasionally been major players in this drama as they have researched and uncovered various online vulnerabilities affecting millions of people across the globe.

What Deibert is grappling with in this book is the same fundamental problem that has long plagued the Internet: How do you preserve the benefits associated with the most open and interconnected "network of networks" the world has ever known while also remedying the various vulnerabilities and pathologies created by that same openness and interconnectedness?

The only problem with Deibert's book is that he does such a nice job itemizing and describing these security vulnerabilities that by the time the reader wades through 230 pages and nears the end of the book, they are left in a highly demoralized state, searching for some hope and a concrete set of practical solutions. Unfortunately, they won't find an abundance of either in Deibert's brief closing chapter. Deibert does offer a principle vision of distributed security and digital stewardship to counter the growing push by governments to "clamp down" of cyberspace, but his approach is highly aspirational in nature and lacks concrete details. Deibert would have been wise to spend a bit more time developing this alternative "bottom-up" vision of how online security should work and bolstering it with case studies of how it already works well in practice today.

Regardless, Ron Deibert's "Black Code" is a sweeping exploration of these issues that makes substantial contributions to the field of Internet policy studies. It is an excellent resource for students, scholars, and policy wonks alike.

[See my complete review of Deibert's "Black Code" over at the Technology Liberation Front blog.]
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MUST READ June 14 2013
By Simbacat 911 - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book will open ones I to all the unspoken issues that go on in our daily lives as a internet user. A must read to understand what people are up against and what is going on behind your back when using the internet.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Essential, good, but not as great as Dr Diebert could have made it Nov. 1 2013
By Keith Aspinall - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Ron's book does a workmanlike job of describing the current (immediately pre- Andrew Snowden) world of internet security, crime and governmental control if freedoms. He writes well, and the book is never boring. This is essential reading because it is a comprehensive review of the current state of play of privacy and security in our modern internet dependent society. If there was a course that prepared us for life in the modern age, this work would be on the required reading list. It is fundamentally a very scary story indeed - one that everyone should be aware of - each of my three children will get a copy of this book followed by a quiz during the Christmas holidays (they are all researchers of one sort or another, and I will find at least one additional gift). It is light in the mechanics of why and how the internet is insecure, and a little more nerdy detail would have been welcome to support what without it remain unfounded assertions. That not withstanding, this is an accurate and objective review.

The author is very aware of the fuzzy line dividing black hat from white hat hacking, and in trying to stay on the right side of it, the text becomes a little polemical.

Read it, and take precautions!
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