cyber alert

April 30, 2005

Notwithstanding the clichéd warning against doing so, if anything is usually judged by its cover, it is a book. I really thought I was going to hate this book because I hated the cover. It was not so much the cover picture of a monitor and keyboard in a stylised police interview room (although clearly the brains behind the crime, the server, had escaped detection), it was the fact that the back cover boasted of coverage of “whiz-kid law enforcement officers” and spoke of Internet crime “increasing in epidemic proportions”. Oh God. It did not even seem sure whether it was cyber alert or Cyber Alert (which I admit would not much bother a normal person). My prejudices were firmed up by the discovery that the pages themselves are made from rough paper, of the kind associated with paperbacks where the pages stick together for the worst of reasons, with a cheap feel and the smell of the recycle bin.

Still, one tries to stay open-minded. And I had in the end to accept that this is a responsibly written and neat summary of the world of cybercrime and that I don’t hate it at all.

Peter Warren and Michael Streeter are journalists and use journalistic tools to good effect. Interviews with hackers and spending time just watching the good guys at work create useful insights that I have not seen done so well elsewhere. They display a touch of grudging admiration for the old-school hackers but perhaps that is not surprising as reading the book helped me to discover that a couple of prominent experts were (non-criminal) hackers in their former life. I also think that they are a little too easily impressed by the level of success of the National Hi-tech Crime Unit when there is so little against which to measure that Unit’s performance but the Unit does have a certain glamour that must be hard to resist.

The authors end the book with a Cyber Manifesto (if you can bear to hear the word again). It essentially focuses on educational issue and improving security standards and is wholly laudable. The warning in the book is that failure to focus on cybercrime prevention will lead inexorably to real social damage, whether at the hands of terrorists or criminals. With some banks making noises about poor security by customers absolving them of responsibility for loss, and a surprising level of public acceptance that ebay is not responsible for rogues on its shores, we may well see a move to greater personal responsibility for security. In fact the book persuaded me to upgrade my firewall and that’s like getting children to tidy their rooms.

All-in-all, it’s a worthwhile book – pity about the paper.