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The Myths of Security: What the Computer Security Industry Doesn't Want You to Know Paperback – Jun 29 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: O'Reilly Media; 1 edition (June 29 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0596523025
  • ISBN-13: 978-0596523022
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 272 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #866,242 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

John Viega is CTO of the Software-as-a-Service Business Unit atMcAfee, and was previously Vice President, Chief Security Architect atMcAfee. He is an active advisor to several security companies,including Fortify and Bit9, and is the author of a number of securitybooks, including Network Security with OpenSSL (O'Reilly) and BuildingSecure Software (Addison-Wesley).

John is responsible for numerous software security tools and is theoriginal author of Mailman, the popular mailing list manager. He hasdone extensive standards work in the IEEE and IETF, and co-inventedGCM, a cryptographic algorithm that NIST (US Department of Commerce)has standardized. He holds a B.A. and M.S. from the University ofVirginia.

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Format: Paperback
The author has interesting insider view which escapes most of us and allows him to shed some light on a ubiquitous and pervasive industry which few truly understand. Essentially, he posits the information security product industry is broken and that few are actually trying to fix it. Most of the arguments he forwards are from the "usability and impact" perspective rather than "effectiveness of the related control". As a result, Mr. Viega makes some statements that make me cringe, specifically with respect to host based security measures. Being a information security consultant, I, of course, disagree with him on many topics; although his arguments are well thought out and explained (just, apparently, not convincing enough for me)

This book has the challenge of attempting to reach a wide audience and, as such, at times becomes either too light on topics requiring heavy discussion or too in depth in areas which I thought might have needed a high level overview. Again, I consider my background to influence my interest and retention on these topics and clearly Mr. Viega knows his stuff. At times I found myself looking for more on a specific topic on an idea (Privacy perhaps?) or skipping ten pages on something which wasn't particularly interesting to me. But these are perils of the industry and I can't fault the author for that.

For the most part, I believe the target audience is the computer consumer home hobbyist more than the professional or enterprise concerned. That's not to say that the security professionals won't gain knowledge by reading this book, but rather it's written at a level that anyone with an interest can read. Actually, if you're a budding entrepreneur, Mr.
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Format: Paperback
This 232-page book contains 48 short chapters. It is easy to read even if you are not technically savvy but you will get a lot more out of this book if you are actively participating within the security industry.

Mr. Viega provides the current state of many security issues and topics from his point of view. He certainly has interesting ideas and bold comments on the topics he covers. He also offers some practical advice in some chapters.

I recommend this informative and fun book to anyone interested in reading a collection of short discussions on some security topics written by someone working within the security industry.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0xa72af0f0) out of 5 stars 34 reviews
29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa73afb34) out of 5 stars Since consumers don't care about security, why write a book like this for them? Aug. 13 2009
By Richard Bejtlich - Published on
Format: Paperback
Let me start by saying I usually like John Viega's books. I rated Building Secure Software 5 stars back in 2005 and 19 Deadly Sins of Software Security 4 stars in 2006. However, I must not be the target audience for this book, and I can't imagine who really would be. The book mainly addresses consumer concerns and largely avoids the enterprise. However, if most consumers think "antivirus" when they think "security," why would they bother reading The Myths of Security (TMOS)?

TMOS is strongest when Viega talks about the antivirus (or antimalware, or endpoint protection, or whatever host-centric security mechanism you choose) industry. I didn't find anything to be particularly "myth-shattering," however. I have to agree with two of the previous reviewers. Many of the "chapters" in this book could be blog posts. The longer chapters could be longer blog posts. The lack of a unifying theme really puts TMOS at a disadvantage compared to well-crafted books. I was not a huge fan of The New School of Information Security or Geekonomics (both 4 stars), but those two titles are better than TMOS.

If you want to read books that will really help you think properly about digital security, the two must-reads are still Secrets and Lies by Bruce Schneier and Security Engineering, 2nd Ed by Ross Anderson. I would avoid Bruce's sequel, Beyond Fear -- it's ok, but he muddles a few concepts. (Heresy, I know!) I haven't read Schneier on Security, but I imagine it is good given the overall quality of his blog postings.

If you want to shatter some serious myths, spend time writing a book on the "80% myth," which is stated in a variety of ways by anyone who is trying to demonstrate that insider threats are the worst problem facing digital security. If you're going to pretend to debunk open source security, why not back it up with some numbers? Studies have been published recently, and original research and results would be welcome. How about demonstrating that user awareness training wastes money, because enough marks fall prey anyway? I'd also like to see research showing that frequent password changes are worse for security, not better. Wrap all of that in a coherent manner with substantial chapters and you have a real TMOS book.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa73afb88) out of 5 stars A contrarian provides an interesting look at the information security industry Aug. 31 2009
By Ben Rothke - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Myths of Security: What the Computer Security Industry Doesn't Want You to Know is an interesting and thought-provoking book. Ultimately, the state of information security can be summed up in the book's final three sentences, in which John Viega writes that 'real, timely improvement is possible, but it requires people to care a lot more [about security] than they do. I'm not sure that's going to happen anytime soon. But I hope it does.'

The reality is that while security evangelists such as Viega write valuable books such as this, it is for the most part falling on deaf ears. Most people don't understand computer security and its risks, and therefore places themselves and the systems they are working in danger. Malware finds computers to load on, often in part to users who are oblivious to the many threats.

Much of the book is made up of Viega's often contrarian views of the security industry. With so much hype abound, many of the often skeptical views he writes about, show what many may perceive are information security truths, are indeed security myths.

From the title of the book, one might think that there is indeed a conspiracy in the computer security industry to keep users dumb and insecure. But as the author notes in chapter 45 -- An Open Security Industry, the various players in the computer security industry all work in their own fiefdoms. This is especially true when it comes to anti-virus, with each vendor to a degree reinventing the anti-virus wheel. The chapter shows how sharing amongst these companies is heavily needed. With that, the book's title of What the Computer Security Industry Doesn't Want You to Know is clearly meant to be provocative, but not true-life.

The book is made up of 48 chapters, on various so called myths. Most of the chapter are 2-3 pages in length and tackle each of these myths. The range of topics covers the entire security industry, with topics spanning from various security technologies, issues, risks, and people.

While not every chapter is a myth per se, many are. Perhaps the most evocative of the security myth is chapters 10 -- Four Minutes to Infection and chapter 22 -- Do Antivirus Vendors Write their own Viruses?. But the bulk of the book is not about myths per se, rather an overview of the state of information security, and why it is in such a state.

In chapter 16, The Cult of Schneier [full disclosure -- Bruce Schneier and I work for the same company], Viega takes Schneier to task for the fact that many people are using his book Applied Cryptography, even though it has not been updated in over a decade. It is not fair to blame him for that. While Viega admits that he holds Schneier in high esteem, the chapter reads like the author is somehow jealous of Schneier's security rock star status.

Chapter 18 is on the topic of security snake oil, ironically a topic Schneier has long been at the forefront of. The chapter gives the reader sage advice that it is important to do their homework on security products you buy and to make sure you have at least a high-level understanding of the technical merits and drawbacks of the security product at hand. The problem though is that the vast majority of end-users clearly don't have the technical wherewithal to do that. It is precisely that scenario that gives rise to far too many security snake-oil vendors.

Perhaps the best chapter in the book, and the one to likely get the most comments, is chapter 24 -- Open Source Security: A Red Herring. Viega takes on Eric Raymond's theory of open source security that "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow." Viega notes that a large challenge with security and open source is that a lot of the things that make for secure systems are not well defined. Viega closes with the argument that one can argue open versus closed source forever, but there isn't strong evidence to suggest that it is the right question to be asking in the first place.

Overall, The Myths of Security: What the Computer Security Industry Doesn't Want You to Know is good introduction to information security. While well-written and though provoking, the book may be too conceptual and unstructured for an average end-user, and too basic for many experienced information security professionals. But for those that are interested, the book covers the entire gamut of the information security, and the reader, either security pro or novice, comes out much better informed.

While the author makes it clear he works for McAfee, and at times takes the company to task; the book references McAfee far too many times. At times the book seems like it is an advertisement for the company.

Viega does give interesting and often entertaining overviews of what we often take for granted. Some of the books arguments are debatable, but many more are a refreshing look at the dynamic information security industry. Viega has sat down and written his observations of what it going on. They are worth perusing, and the book is definitely worth reading.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa73affc0) out of 5 stars Awful, opinionated. Dec 3 2010
By SJP - Published on
Format: Paperback
I expected much more from John Viega, but this book has so much unsubstantiated opinion and reads like an arrogant and ill thought out blog, that I want to return the book for a refund.

Chapter 5, "Test of a Good Security Product: Would I Use It?", he then lists some he uses and those he doesn't:

Under the "he does use it" category: "I've been forced to run god-awful VPN (virtual private net-work) software at work (usually the crappy Cisco client). This allows me to access my company's resources even when I'm not actually in the office."

So I take it the god-awful software is a pass of this test? And the use of VPN software to access internal office network resources is a revelation?

Under the "he does NOT use it" category: he lists firewalls and his reasoning? Because he does not need to use one at home, on account that his cable MODEM and wireless router are NAT capable and therefore hosts behind them are not externally addressable. So firewalls fail the "good security product" test because John Viega does not need them at home? Seriously?

He then ends the "does NOT use" category with "Any other consumer security product"!

In Chapter 16, "The Cult of Schneier", he has a few stabs at Bruce Schneier, but does not give any specifics with the technical depth that Bruce Schneier deserves. He complains that Applied Cryptography is overly referred to by Schneier cultists, given that it has been 13 years since it was updated and the field has advanced since then. He uses MD5 as an example of something that was considered very strong then but not now. From my recollection of that brilliant cryptography foundation, Bruce mentioned that MD5 was suspected to have a weakness.

Edit: Dug out my much loved and tattered Applied Cryptography 2nd Ed. Here's the quote: "Tom Berson attempted to use differential cryptanalysis against a single round of MD5, but his attack is ineffective against all four rounds. A more successful attack by den Boer and Bosselaers produces collisions using the compression function of MD5. This does not lend itself to attacks against MD5 in Luby-Rackoff-like encryption algorithms. It does mean that one of the basic design priciples of MD5 - to design a collision-resistant compression function - has been violated. Although it is true that "there seems to be a weakness in the compression function, but it has no practical impact on the security of the hash function", I am wary of using MD5."

At the end of this chapter John states, "I'd like to make a plea for Schneierists to not accept every word Bruce Schneier has written as utterly factual". So the field has advanced 13 years from the snapshot in time that Applied Cryptography captured and so Bruce did not capture the facts at the time? So was there a better book at that time?

Under Chapter 27 "Virtualization: Host Security's Silver Bullet?", John suggests that Apple could get a leg up on Microsoft in the security of virtualization, by adding hardware support for virtualization in Open Firmware, "which it (Apple) controls". Strange, given that Apple have not mass shipped Open Firmware based computers (using the PowerPC archtecture), since the transition to EFI Intel based computers was completed in 2006. This book was first release three years after that!

He also claims that, "I think virtualization is the long-term future of host security", which flies in the face of Google research which found all x86 based virtualization products were vulnerable to attacks which allowed stepping out of an exploited virtual machine and into another adjacent virtual machine or even the host VM OS itself, seizing full control of the host and all virtual machines. Just take a look at all the advisories for the past years since that Google research to see that virtualization continues to provide a new attack surface for attackers.

Under Chapter 40 "VPNs Usually Decrease Security", John claims that VPN's reduce security because when an Internet connected client connects to a secured office network via VPN, it is now connected to the internet and the secured office network. But this is only practically true in for a split tunnel VPN configuration. If a corporation sets their laptops up for that, without anti-malware and a host firewall, then they get what they deserve.

There is nothing exceptional in this embarrassment of a book. It is filled with opinion that is not backed up. I'd expect this quality from a column in some monthly glossy PC magazine that is peddled from stands in the checkout aisle of super markets. I wish I could give zero stars. Really awful.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa73b43a8) out of 5 stars A Rude Awakening for Many (Who Will Probably Try and Hide or Dismiss the Facts) July 9 2009
By Mark Curphey - Published on
Format: Paperback
I was lucky enough to be sent a pre-production copy of the book by John. As I read the TOC my jaw dropped. Finally someone has the balls to say whats really happening. Far too many people have been hiding behind marketing FUD or driving their opinions and defending their actions laregly to defend their careers and salaries. I am sure it's a tough message to swallow for many. I saw many things I am or have been guilty of in the book. That's all the more reason why it needed to be said. The industry needs to be cleaned up and the BS called out for what it is.

I applaude John for having the balls to write it.

Its not just a must read, its a must take note and must take action book!
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa73b448c) out of 5 stars A Working of Wind-Socking Feb. 7 2011
By Eddie-Oh! - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The title of this book should be "Information Security: One Mans Battle With Himself and Everyone Else". The author doesn't know what he likes or dislikes, so he hedges his as he likes and dislike everything at once. In certain situations he feels the hassle for security protocol is worth the effort, in other yet remarkably similar situations he feels the same protocol a total waste of time. Only he knows, er, or maybe not, what the differences are, while the reader is feeling nauseous from the roller coaster ride of emotional opinion.
I rate it two stars only on account of the occasional tidbit of juicy security/technology bits that you can add to your repertoire. It's a shame that the author chose to road he took to convey his ideas. I think it would be more respected if it were a straight up techy book.