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The Myth of Homeland Security [Hardcover]

Marcus Ranum
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 17 2003
"As I write this, I'm sitting in a restaurant in a major U.S. airport, eating my breakfast with a plastic knife and fork. I worked up quite an appetite getting here two hours early and shuffling in the block-long lines until I got to the security checkpoint where I could take off my shoes, remove my belt, and put my carry-on luggage through the screening system .

"What's going on? It's homeland security. Welcome to the new age of knee-jerk security at any price. Well, I've paid, and you've paid, and we'll all keep paying-but is it going to help? Have we embarked on a massive multibillion-dollar boondoggle that's going to do nothing more than make us feel more secure? Are we paying nosebleed prices for "feel-good" measures? .

"This book was painful to write. By nature, I am a problem solver. Professionally I have made my career out of solving complex problems efficiently by trying to find the right place to push hard and make a difference. Researching the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, CIA, INS, the PATRIOT Act, and so forth, one falls into a rabbit's hole of interdependent lameness and dysfunction. I came face to face with the realization that there are gigantic bureaucracies that exist primarily for the sole purpose of prolonging their existence, that the very structure of bureaucracy rewards inefficiency and encourages territorialism and turf warfare."

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From Publishers Weekly

This rather jumbled study of the state of modern American security issues falls short of indispensable but rises well above useless polemic. Saying the most in his own professional area, information-technology security, Ranum denigrates the prospect of "cyberwar," but then discusses in some detail the disruption that hackers have caused. Existing firewalls (of which the author is a professional developer) and virus protection are valuable, but only if universally and rigorously used. Hackers should not be rewarded for turning "expert" but charged with grand theft, and people with top-secret access need to be paid more than clerks. He praises the better trained personnel of the Transportation Security Authority and goes on to denounce the opposition to profiling as the dreaded "PC's." If Ranum demonizes anybody in this breezy first-person polemic, it is the media, with the standard charges of giving information to the enemy ("Thanks a lot, guys!"), but he also makes a persuasive case for their abysmal technical ignorance. (The ACLU is not accused of anything worse than having a radically different perspective than his about the long-term consequences of the Patriot Act.) Ranum notes that more cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies is needed, and is possibly occurring. The turf war between the FBI and the CIA has to end. And the government's information technology system needs to be rationalized, starting about 10 years ago. At the end of Ranum's stocktaking, one is left with an instant soup-like aftertaste, but there are enough cubes of information among the "You Should Know" sidebars and "Bringing the Point Home" boxes, particularly for technophiles, to make it worthwhile.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

This rather jumbled study of the state of modern American security issues falls short of indispensable but rises well above useless polemic. Saying the most in his own professional area, information-technology security, Ranum denigrates the prospect of "cyberwar," but then discusses in some detail the disruption that hackers have caused. Existing firewalls (of which the author is a professional developer) and virus protection are valuable, but only if universally and rigorously used. Hackers should not be rewarded for turning "expert" but charged with grand theft, and people with top-secret access need to be paid more than clerks. He praises the better-trained personnel of the Transportation Security Authority and goes on to denounce the opposition to profiling as the dreaded "PC's." If Ranum demonizes anybody in this breezy first-person polemic, it is the media, with the standard charges of giving information to the enemy ("Thanks a lot, guys!"), but he also makes a persuasive case for their abysmal technical ignorance. (The ACLU is not accused of anything worse than having a radically different perspective than his about the long-term consequences of the Patriot Act.) Ranum notes I that more cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies is needed, and is possibly occurring. The turf war between the FBI and the CIA has to end. And the government's information technology system needs to be rationalized, starting about 10 years ago. At the end of Ranum's stocktaking, one is left with an instant soup-like aftertaste, but there are enough cubes of information among the "You Should Know" sidebars and "Bringing the Point Home" boxes, particularly for technophiles, to make it worthwhile. (Nov.) (Publishers Weekly, November 3, 2003)

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Homeland security is not a game for amateurs or the impatient. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars It's about Ranum, not about Homeland Security June 14 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
It was reassuring to see Ranum discussing the areas he's known for: downplaying the over-hyped risks cyber-terrorism (and he has thoughtful comments on a cyber "pre-"Pearl Harbor).
But the rest of the book is a lot more about Ranum's opinions and speculations, and rather light on reliable facts. Where you already agree, you might cheer Ranum on. But if he introduces material that surprises or challenges, he cites no sources, so who know's if he's talking fact or blather?
In numerous places, he's vague or superficial or appears to contradict points he made a chapter or two back. It's as though the book was written in a number of brief bursts, the author forgetting between times what he'd said before.

One strange example: on p174, Ranum claims that the Code Red virus might have been caught even by outdated virus software, hence Code Red's spread is indicative of mass lack of any kind virus protection, not simply virus writer being a small step ahead. Interesting enough to deserve a bit more of an explanation.
The book review by Rob Slade (Google newsgroups) takes Ranum to task for this comment. Then an "annoyed" Ranum, replying in Risk Digest 23.14, claims he never wrote this!
I'm pretty sure this was just an example of vagueness... but it's emblematic of what's wrong with this book, and it's exponentially moreso in the squishier political and governmental areas.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Ramblings By a Non-Expert April 22 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Don't waste your time or your money. Why would anybody want to read a book about homeland security (given all such a title entails) by an information security geek? Well, if you do fall for it, that's exactly what you will get.
For a more complete, expert treatment of homeland security issues, I recommend Richard Clarke's book Against All Enemies or Dan Verton's book, Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Not much new thought, rambling April 20 2004
Format:Hardcover
This book is a rambling collection of opinion and assumed facts. It is very poorly edited (one chapter ends in mid-sentence) and there are way too many subheadings and bold extracted quotes that give the book more of a tabloid feel (and expands the number of pages -- maybe there wasn't enough material??). A lot of the "You should know" sidebars are statements of opinion dressed up as fact. There are some interesting factual tidbits, but it is almost too much effort to wade through the chaff to find them.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Did I read the same book as the others? March 17 2004
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I tried, I honestly tried to get through this book. I read all these online reviews (I'm now convinced they were written by friends and relatives) and thought I would somehow get to something thought provoking. That never happened. Marcus was drab, and showed that he was out of his area (Computer/Network Security) He should NOT have even attempted this work because it degrades the great work he's done in his chosen field. Some examples of poor writing Chapter 2 end mid sentance? Was there more? Just check page 30 to see what I mean. I'm donating my book to the public library, if anyone wants to read it, they can pick it up for free. The Author should make a cent from this mess. Actually, dont bother its not worth the time.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Find out if true Homeland Security Achievable Feb. 4 2004
Format:Hardcover
Every decade or so, a book comes out that fundamentally changes the way we look at an issue. Examples include Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, and Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed; these books are timeless in their influence. The Myth of Homeland Security by noted information security consultant Marcus Ranum (also known as the father of the firewall) has an equally ominous message and deserves equal attention. Like Unsafe at Any Speed, Ranum's book should serve as a fulcrum for change.
Essentially, Ranum makes the point that buying duct tape by the mile and having elderly women remove their shoes at airports does absolutely nothing to increase homeland security. Ranum details other flaws in the government's approach to counter terrorism, including the huge bureaucracies that exist primarily for the purpose of prolonging their existence. He notes that the very structure of bureaucracies rewards inefficiencies and encourages territorialism and turf warfare. Want proof? More than two years after 9-11, the CIA and FBI still do not have a streamlined method for interdepartmental communications.
Throwing money (to the tune of tens of billions of dollars) at the problem without first identifying the solutions certainly are not the way to go. So what should we do?
First, as Ranum notes, we must get practical. From a physical security perspective, it is hard enough to secure a mega-mall with a few hundred stores and tens of thousands of customers. The task is exponentially more difficult, if not impossible, when extended to an entire country spanning millions of square miles of land, including long, unsecured borders, and inhabited by hundreds of millions of both permanent and transient, legal and illegal persons, with more entering daily.
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3.0 out of 5 stars entertaining polemic Dec 20 2003
Format:Hardcover
I purchased and read this entertaining romp despite having skimmed it at the bookstore and reading this poor ad hominem argument:
"After watching the way the worldwide media and the international community reacted to the question of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, I don't think they'd see a smoking gun if you stuck it right against their foreheads." (p. 220)
I purchased it anyway, because although I think that's an incredible feeble aside (Mr. Ranum doesn't bother to say what smoking guns he thinks have been established, and it seems clear as of this writing that there are no WMDs in Iraq, and no good evidence that there were any post-1994), elsewhere in my initial skimming I saw what looked to be very interesting information about the Homeland Security Act and the USA PATRIOT Act. Largely because of this material, I did find the book to be worth my time (if not quite worth the dollars I spent on it--I should have waited for a paperback edition).
The book is definitely a polemic, not a researched and referenced scholarly tome--there are no references or footnotes, beyond the suggested further reading material on pp. xvi-xvii. There is much to disagree with besides the above example, as other reviewers here have noted. It's short on conclusions and suggested remedies, though there are a few radical (i.e., politically impossible) suggestions, such as abolishing the INS and starting over from scratch (probably not a bad idea at all).
I recommend it for those interested in a lightweight, quick read to get a quick overview of the problems of securing an entire nation and the means that are being adopted with that alleged goal, but if you are looking for depth and detail, with solidly argued conclusions and recommendations, you'll need to look elsewhere.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A level-headed look by a 6 month-expert
Ranum admits that he's no expert on homeland security. And proceeds to prove it. (He has a solid background in computer security but spent only several months researching homeland... Read more
Published on Dec 11 2003 by Adam DeRidder
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes you think
I've known Marcus for several years. One of the things that has always impressed me was his ability to make you think, to demonstrate ideas you never heard of before. Read more
Published on Nov. 11 2003 by Lance Spitzner
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect boxcutter companion!
If you're a little uneasy these days with teenagers testing our homeland security by planting boxcutters and getting away with it, this book is a must read! Read more
Published on Nov. 10 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Not too shabby for a computer security guy
Let's set the record straight. This book is a 231 page political rant, regardless of the author's claim on p. 31 to be "nonideological. Read more
Published on Oct. 31 2003 by Richard Bejtlich
5.0 out of 5 stars Citizen-Advocate Ranum Sheds Some Light
I'm sure Jefferson and the other Founders believed that intelligent and well-informed citizens would step forward to help the Republic in times of crisis. Read more
Published on Oct. 31 2003 by Nat Howard
5.0 out of 5 stars Rock solid!
Ranum knows what he is talking about.
If only the folks in Washington, DC would read this book, we would be in better shape. Read more
Published on Oct. 30 2003 by Eric Kent
5.0 out of 5 stars Glad to see this book
The Myth of Homeland Security is an excellent debunking of the counter-terrorism security nonsense that we're all being forced to put up with. Read more
Published on Oct. 24 2003 by Bruce Schneier
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