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The Myth of Homeland Security Hardcover – Oct 17 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (Oct. 17 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471458791
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471458791
  • Product Dimensions: 16.4 x 2.5 x 23.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 513 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,646,427 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

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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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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By A Customer on June 14 2004
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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
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 security). He says that he read the Homeland Security Act and that both the ACLU and the Justice Dept are wrong about it's contents, but does a poor job of detailing what it is all about.
He quotes lots of hearsay and old data. He grabs snippets of information to make his point, not realizing that they could sometimes equally well prove the opposite point. He spends many pages telling us, both how hard the job of security is, how important it is and how badly it is being done, but his solutions, when offered, however, aren't terribly practical or aren't much better than what is in place.
Like the other reviewers, I agree with most of what he says, but I already knew most of it too. Gov't is bloated. Politicians are more concerned with gain for themselves and their districts than with effective legislation. Security is at least 50% illusion. It is impossible to stop a truely determined terrorist. And the Homeland Security Act is a double-edged sword that is as likely to hamper our freedoms as citizens as it is to slow down terrorism. Yep. It's all true, Marcus.
Overall, I give the author gets points for being concerned. He gets points for pointing out legitimate problems and for caring enough to research the situation. And he does know his computer security. But I wish he had more solutions and less frustration. I found myself saying "Yep, I agree" far more than "Wow! This guy is sharp or well-informed or insightful". I've read better editorials about the Homeland Security Act than this book (and worse ones too). It ain't bad, it just ain't all that good neither.
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