Security Power Tools (SPT) is O'Reilly Publishing's sister manual to their popular Unix Power Tools […]. It is written as a primer to various security tools, organized within seven sections, covering Legal and Ethics, Reconnaissance, Penetration, Control, Defense, Monitoring, and Discovery. While the target audience of SPT is security professionals, the book weighs in at just over 800 pages and probably has something for everyone working in a technical facet of IT.
Having said that, I really enjoyed reading this book. I read it nearly cover-to-cover, and while I was at least familiar with most of the material in the book, I was still able to find gems of knowledge, even in tools that I work with on a daily basis. Expect to read about some tools that you may already know about, like Nmap, Nessus, and The Metasploit Framework, but keep reading for a heap of other useful applications that you may not be familiar with.
One of the strengths of the book is the varying backgrounds of its contributing authors; just as the book covers a diverse tool set, the expertise of the authors is also diverse. The book was written collaboratively by twelve individuals, made up primarily of Juniper Networks' J-Security team […]. Despite an opportunity for vendor-bias towards Juniper products, the book remained vendor-neutral. The majority of the book focuses on open-source and free-ware applications, although there is commercial software covered as well. In fact, Chapter 9 - Exploitation Framework Applications covers Canvas […] and Core Impact […] exclusively; both commercial applications.
One of the chapters that makes this book unique is the chapter on Law and Ethics, written by Jennifer Stisa Granick. You may recognize Ms Granick from her representation of Michael Lynn in during the Cisco Gate ordeal at Black Hat 2005 (coincidentally, Michael Lynn is also one of the contributing authors of this book). She provides an insightful discussion on not only the legal implications of security work, but also the role that ethics plays in some of those "gray" areas that security professionals may find themselves in.
Another chapter that sets this book apart is Chapter 6 - Custom Packet Generation, which primarily focuses on the use of Scapy. The chapter is written by Phillipe Biondi, the author of Scapy, and he provides an excellent argument to "Decode, Do Not Interpret". He discusses the advantages of writing tools that will provide you with raw decoded information, without an interpretation of that information. For instance, if you scanned a port on a remote host, Biondi would argue that it would be better for your tool to tell you that the remote host returned a RST packet rather than telling you that the port is closed. Beyond this valuable discussion, Biondi provides a very thorough discussion of the uses of Scapy, along with several good examples. This chapter alone makes this book worth buying.
While I liked this book, there were also some problems that prevented me from giving it a 5-star rating. For starters, the preface describes the overwhelming amount of content that was edited out of this book to keep it within size constraints, yet there was quite a bit of content that detracted from the value-density of the book. As I mentioned previously, the majority of SPT is a security primer and should not be considered a reference. Given this position, I believe that there was too much step-by-step installation and setup content. As an example, Chapter 16 - E-Mail Security and Anti-Spam covered the installation and management of the Norton Anti-Virus client. I can appreciate the security-related value of anti-virus software, but I felt that a step-by-step walk through of a Norton product was irrelevant.
Additionally, while I previously stated that the diverse expertise of the authors was a benefit, the varied writing style detracted from the readability of the book. Content aside, I found some chapters to be fun to read while others were boring, due to a particular author's writing style.
In summary, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in an overview of where to get started in researching security tools for a particular purpose. While none of the discussions in the book are exhaustive, they will definitely get you started and arm you with enough information to know what you want and where to get it.