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High-Tech Crimes Revealed: Cyberwar Stories from the Digital Front Paperback – Aug 27 2004

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 7 reviews
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Good material with a small caveat... Sept. 11 2004
By Thomas Duff - Published on
Format: Paperback
I recently finished the book High-Tech Crimes Revealed - Cyberwar Stories From The Digital Front by Steve Branigan (Addison-Wesley). It's a pretty good book, but with a few shortcomings...

Chapter list: An Attack on the Telephone Network; An Attack on an ISP; If He Had Just Paid the Rent; Inside a Hacker Sting Operation...; Identity Theft; Let's Ask the Hackers; Why Do Hackers Hack?; Setting the Stage; High-Tech Crime; What Not to Do; How to Run a High-Tech Case; What Have We Learned; Appendix; Bibliography; Index

There are two types of writing in this book. Up through Inside A Hacker Sting Operation, the focus is on real-life cases that the author was part of. You learn details about how cyber-crime is conducted, uncovered, and prosecuted. The benefit here is that you see the warts and failings of the process instead of the glorified versions as told by security experts. After that chapter, there is less emphasis on stories and more focus on subjects, such as why these things occur and how to conduct an investigation. There are still references to real-life events, but that's less of an emphasis. Branigan's writing is humorous and lightly satirical, and makes for an enjoyable read.

The shortcoming was something I couldn't quite put my finger on until I read the preface. Steve started this book in 1999 and thought he'd be done in early 2002. September 11th threw him off, and he didn't get started again until nearly a year later. So in effect, you have a book on cyber-crime published in 2004 that was largely written between 1999 and 2001. While there are references to events in the recent past, many of the significant stories and examples are vintage 2002 or earlier. In my opinion, it's the only significant flaw in what is otherwise an interesting read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Great book for management Feb. 2 2005
By Eric Kent - Published on
Format: Paperback
High-Tech Crimes Revealed is a great book for management.

The stories are real, written in non-technical language.

Makes for very interesting reading.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The law enforcement side of the cybercrime equation Sept. 23 2004
By Richard Bejtlich - Published on
Format: Paperback
Prior to 'High-Tech Crimes Revealed' (HTCR) I read and reviewed 'Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent' (HTOAC). While HTOAC is fictional and written almost exclusively from the point of view of the 'hacker,' HTCR is mostly true and written from the law enforcement perspective. On the strength of the cases described in the first half of the book, I recommend HTCR as an introduction to the mindset needed to pursue and prosecute cyber criminals.

Author Steve Branigan brings a unique perspective to his book. In 1986-7 Branigan was a patrolman in the Seaside Heights Police Department, but three years later he investigated telecom incidents for Bell Communications Research. Later work at Lucent and Bell Labs prepared him for co-founding Lumeta in 2000. His experience with telecom security differentiates the book from those who spend more time on Internet-centric crimes.

I found the first half of the book more helpful than the second half, particularly when legal and criminal concepts are introduced in the context of security investigations. Ch 1 offers insight into drafting search warrants when pursuing a rogue insider. Ch 2 explains subpoenas and executing search warrants. Ch 3 discusses options at trial, like plea bargains. Ch 4 outlines an undercover sting and the role of confidential informants. Ch 5 talks about identity theft and ch 6 describes the author's role in interviewing two 'hackers.'

The first half of the book uses true stories to make its points, but the second shifts more to opinions with short stories added for interest. I skimmed these later chapters as they seemed more appropriate for those without security and forensic experience.

A few excerpts from the book are quote worthy. On p 106 Branigan notes that during a sting operation, the cops disabled exploit tools hosted on a cop-supervised bulletin board to avoid 'facilitating the transmission of hacking tools.' Consider that when you find a 'broken exploit.' A footnote on p 111 says 'NetStumbler is freeware. Why people write these things nobody knows.' NetStumbler isn't just for wardriving by those with malicious intent; sys admins also use it to discover rogue access points.

I agree with Thomas Duff's assessment regarding the shelf life of Branigan's stories. Many cases, like ch 1's SS7 intrusion, were cool despite being almost 10 years old. In other places Branigan really dated himself. For example, p 118 states 'the main set of backdoor programs for UNIX are collectively known as rootkit, and those for Windows-based systems are Back Orifice and Netbus.' That was mostly correct in 2000, but very dated by 2004. I also question the 'session takeover' techniques mentioned on p 175; far too little detail is offered to make me accept this 'magic' capability.

Overall I recommend reading HTCR. Branigan literally has a front-row seat on several fascinating security incidents. Few people have accompanied police when seizing evidence or performed hands-on analysis of live systems as related by HTCR. Readers with an interest in telco security will particularly enjoy Branigan's tales, and I appreciated his use of FreeBSD as a forensic platform.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The complete range of computer crimes Sept. 16 2004
By Charles Ashbacher - Published on
Format: Paperback
Few things really change in human society. As computers become more ubiquitous, the criminal elements of society find ways to use them for profit. There is also the teen vandal/joyrider element as well. Young people, traditionally males, have always embarked on "adventures" for thrills and to prove that they can do it. The difference when they use computers is that the consequences are orders of magnitude greater. Formerly, when a young person threw a rock through a window to be obnoxious, the damage was restricted to the window. Now, if a young hacker writes a particularly virulent computer virus, it can lead to worldwide costs in the billions.

The legal systems of the world are struggling to keep up with the technological advancement. The definitions of some fundamental principles of law have had to be substantially modified so that certain actions can be considered a crime. Consider the definition of trespassing. Before computers were ubiquitous, it was the act of physically moving to locations declared off-limits. Now, it also includes the virtual entry into a computer system.

In this book, case histories covering the range of computer "incidents" are covered. Some of them are the computer equivalent of a joyride, where a hacker penetrates a system just to prove that they can do it. Few alterations to the system were done, in many cases they left nothing more than the digital equivalent of a pile of mud in the hall to announce their presence. Other case histories deal with some of the more serious crimes, where money and credit card numbers, the digital equivalent of money, were stolen. I personally would have liked to read more detailed descriptions of these crimes. Of course, this is not necessarily the author's fault, as the victims of these crimes are very reluctant to release information on how the crime was perpetrated.

The most interesting data in the book concerns the tactics that one must use in capturing the evidence needed to convict a hacker in a court of law. Since digital data is so easily altered, (forged), the rules of evidence gathering are very precise. The slightest misstep can render the evidence tainted at best and worthless at worst. The author has a great deal of experience in ferreting out computer criminals, and this book is in many ways a recapitulation of criminal behavior. To catch a criminal, you must think like a criminal. The strategies he used in virtual stakeouts are sound advice for anyone who suspects that their computer systems are under attack. This of course is nearly everyone, because if people can log onto your computer, you should consider it at risk.

Computer crime is no different from traditional forms of crime such as robbery, assault, and criminal trespass. If it is allowed to go unchecked, the very fabric of society is at risk. In one way it is different, in that the consequences of what many might consider the act of simple irresponsibility can lead to significant monetary damages and even death. This book does not provide a lot of information about how to harden your defenses. However, in the area of how to identify an attack and track down the criminal(s), it is excellent.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Documenting a new frontier of the war against terrorism Feb. 9 2005
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Format: Paperback
Author Steven Branigan is involved with many real incidents of high-tech crimes, and in High-Tech Crimes Revealed: Cyberwar Stories From The Digital Front provides details on how to find out what actually takes place in such crimes. From the specific abuses of computers and technology to the legal and social concerns often overlooked in cyber-crimes, Branigan's collection of real-world cyberwar stories is enlightening - and frightening, documenting a new frontier of the war against terrorism.