My book review of The Myths of Security: What the Computer Security Industry Doesn't Want You to Know by John Viega was on Slashdot.
The book is an interesting and thought-provoking. 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.