“Steal This Computer Book 3”

Date: June 15th, 2003

URL: http://www.nostarch.com/

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Rating: Excellent!

Review:

Quite the catchy title, isn’t it? Makes you want to pick it up even if you weren’t looking for it. “STCB” is not your typical computer instruction book, yet it is extremely educational. It is written neither for the computer dummy nor the geek, it is written for everybody with a computer. It does not teach you how to program or repair a computer, it teaches more important skills.

Sounds mysterious, doesn’t it? So what is this book about? A good summary would be that it teaches Internet and computer “street smarts”. Everybody knows the shiny polished version of the Internet according to AOL/Time Warner. Many people experience only this version of the Internet without ever realizing it represents only the glossy surface, a mere fraction of what composes this vast information network we call the Internet. While the topic of computer security and related items such as “hackers”, viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, pop-up’s, etc. are widely propagated by the media and companies that make them their business, not many computer users actually understand what it all involves, how it works, and what’s behind it. “STCB” aims to alleviate this lack of education and provides a detailed look into the security related part of the computer world with information that is valuable to noobs and geeks alike.

In the first part titled &Information Overload”, “STCB” shines some light on the rest of the Internet, the parts that a lot of people never get to see, the things that are a little bit different. It talks about items such as alternative news sources, hacker culture, computer security, religion, politics, and other such topics. Without being subjective or judgmental, it offers links to typical popular sites related to these topics. Some of these sites are scary, some are offensive. Some are highly informative, some are dangerous. Some are entertaining, some are mind-boggling. It is completely up the reader to choose which items to explore, and hopefully to form his own opinion about the topics at hand.

The second part, titled “Dangerous Threats on the Internet”, deals with the nasty stuff such as viruses, worms, and trojans. It goes over the most popular examples in computer history. It also provides detailed background info on how they work, what makes them tick, what they are capable of. Other topics in this chapter are also online scams, frauds, pyramid schemes, stalking, again giving a clear overview of popular examples, how they work, and how to avoid them.

Part 3 is titled “Breaking and Entering Computers” and discusses techniques crackers use to discover vulnerable machines, fingerprint them, and access them. It contains some pretty detailed information and, while not providing step-by-step instructions, provides links to sites that contain the proper tools and instructions. Before anybody starts complaining that this information should not be published in a book, rest assured that the people who use this info don’t get it from reading books but from various sources on the web, and it is no secret to them. The info is meant to open the eyes of unsuspecting users and demonstrate what could happen. The first step to protecting yourself is always to identify and understand the threat.

And protecting yourself is exactly the topic of the next segment. Important information found here covers passwords, encryption, protecting your identify, covering your tracks, fighting spam, ads, pop-ups, spyware, and more. Very valuable links and descriptions that every computer user should be aware of. Too many users are helpless victims simply because they lack the knowledge necessary to take action and fight back.

Saving the best for last, part 5 talks about protecting your computer by battening down the hatches in numerous ways, testing that the defenses work, monitoring for intrusions, etc. Firewalls as an essential are discussed as virtual protection, as well as means for physical protection of the computer itself. Other topics in this part are intrusion detection systems, ways to attract crackers, and even trace them, and computer forensics in regards to data recovery or removal.

Several appendices include a list of tools and sites related to computer security and cracker tools, as well as a little history lesson about phone phreaking.

As you can see from the contents, this is a highly informative book. It reveals a lot of information that should be almost standard knowledge to every computer user. It would be excellent if this book was included with every purchased computer. While it covers a lot of topics that could upset, scare, confuse, or maybe bore people, it presents it in a matter-of-fact style, laying out the facts and issues one could encounter, simply for the purpose of awareness.

The author, Wallace Wang, is an interesting character. Wallace is an author, columnist, computer expert, and stand-up comedian. He certainly has done a lot of web surfing to compile this collection of information, websites, and software. He has done a great job presenting the results in a neutral manner, without judgement, merely offering the reader the chance to go explore and learn about the side of the Internet not everybody knows about.

It is a worthwhile read and can keep one occupied for months exploring and processing all the information. I recommend it to any computer owner.

Submitted by: Alex Byron

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