The Art of Deception is one of two books by famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, the other being "The Art of Intrusion". Intrusion focuses primarily on physic...moreThe Art of Deception is one of two books by famous hacker Kevin Mitnick, the other being "The Art of Intrusion". Intrusion focuses primarily on physical or technological hacks, while this book focuses almost exclusively on social engineering attacks.
A number of problems prevented this book from being very good. The main problem is simply that Mitnick did not have enough material to fill an entire book. This book would have been better if it were shorter and simply one section in a larger book about security. A great deal of the book feels like padding, the anecdotes about various social engineering attacks seem repetitive and pointless - reading just one is often enough, but Mitnick consistently indulges himself with identical tale after identical tale.
I'm not entirely sure who the audience for this book could really be. It doesn't seem like it's for technical people, because the book goes out of it's way to define what things like "http" mean. The book claims to be geared toward nontechnical people or businesspeople, but the fact of the matter is that the subtle differences between a lot of the social engineering attacks will be missed by nontechnical people. To your average joe, 20 or so of the stories in the book will seem identical, testing the patience of the reader.
The book is also frustrating in its design. It's constructed as a book to help managers and businesspeople manage security at their companies. Every story about a social engineering attack is followed by a "Mitnick Message" where Kevin explains how to prevent the attack from happening to you. In reality, however, the real focus is the story itself - the attackers are consistently painted as the hero of the story, with the hapless victims being drawn as naive morons. It's clear that Mitnick admires the attackers in these tales, and the "Mitnick Message" feels like it's been forced into the book to keep up the ruse that the book is intended for anyone other than wannabe hackers. Mitnick's advice is a restated form of "verify the identity of the caller" in nearly every instance.
The book is, to put it simply, a bore. Reading it was a challenge, and I had to fight the frustration to skim or skip sections nonstop. The Art of Intrusion is far more interesting, and I recommend it over this book without reservation. There is value for businesspeople to read this book, but I imagine it will present a significant challenge to their patience.
As an aside, Mitnick offers terrible advice regarding passwords. He argues that passwords should not consist of a constant combined with a predictable variable, such as "kevin01", "kevin02", "kevin03". I agree. He also says that users should not write down their passwords and tape the paper to their monitor or under their keyboards. I agree again. He also, unfortunately, argues that passwords should expire every month. Well, that's terrible advice. Passwords need to be something people can remember, or they have to write them down. If they are going to be memorable, they can't change constantly. If they change constantly and must still be memorable, people have no choice but to add some predictable pattern to a memorable portion of a password. In short, of options A) Don't write passwords down B) Don't use a simple increment in a password C) Change passwords monthly, security administrators can pick any two. To try for all three is delusion.(less)
For a book that laments the decline of reason in American culture, this book sure does manage to avoid it's use when making arguments.
Essentially the...moreFor a book that laments the decline of reason in American culture, this book sure does manage to avoid it's use when making arguments.
Essentially the book's real premise is this: Americans are increasingly anti-rational, largely due to the fact that they are reading fewer books. Considering this is coming from a book author, it's hard not to face this argument with some skepticism. Indeed, Jacoby never really provides much in the way of evidence, assuming her claims to be self-evident to the reader.
Much of what she states as unquestionably true are things that, frankly, are questionable, so the fact that she makes no attempt to truly justify her beliefs is troubling.
In the end, Jacoby comes off as an anti-technology luddite, hating technology, television, the internet, and other forms of modernity because they decrease the amount of precious time people spend reading books. She even goes so far as to whine about the decline of reading poetry and fiction, though she makes no evidence whatsoever that these styles of writing contribute in any way to intellectualism.
This book is infuriating to read because there's nothing I hate more than an extremely poor argument in favor of a position with which I agree. Much of what Jacoby says is agreeable, and some of it even intuitive. But she often shifts from the intuitive to the extremist in her belief set, never providing powerful rationale for opinions being espoused from either area.
My 'favorite' part of the book was when Jacoby rambled on about the Harvard president that supposedly claimed that the reason for few female professors could be genetic. Jacoby is infuriated by this claim, and the feminist in her takes over the chapter that discusses this matter. I found this entertaining primarily because it was also discussed in the last book I read, 'Super Crunchers', which explains that the vast majority of people didn't understand the president's real claim because people don't understand the difference between average and standard deviation. Super Crunchers discusses this issue at length, explaining what the president ACTUALLY meant and providing citations of studies which back it up. It turns out there's nothing sexist or demeaning about the statement that the president actually made, but the public's grasp of statistics (Super Cruncher's main focus) is so weak that it has been misunderstood by many.
Having just read that, reading Jacoby rant on about how offended she was by his claim, revealing that she belongs in the "bad at math" category, was nothing short of hilarious.
This book is downright embarassing, I've lost nearly all respect I gained for Jacoby while reading Freethinkers.(less)
Richard Dawkins makes as much of a concession toward the notion of "evolution moving toward humanity" as he'll ever make in The Ancestor's Tale. While...moreRichard Dawkins makes as much of a concession toward the notion of "evolution moving toward humanity" as he'll ever make in The Ancestor's Tale. While some argue that evolution has always been moving towards homo sapiens, Dawkins spends a chapter dispelling the myth, then concedes that looking at evolution as if that were true is still somewhat interesting.
The Ancestor's Tale is Dawkins doing something similar, in a way consistent with his science. He takes a pilgrimage back to the very first organisms, starting at human beings and working backwards, stopping at various points to examine our common ancestors with other organisms.
The book is interesting, though much less so than many of Dawkins's other books. Other books by Dawkins have made me view the natural world as majestic and amazing in a way that I never appreciated before reading his work. The Ancestor's Tale is a bit more factual, a bit more scientific than other books by Dawkins, and in a weird way lacks this property.
There were definitely some eye-opening moments, in particular Dawkins's rant about the curse of a brain that cannot see in gradual differences, but for the most part the book wasn't as enthralling as his other work.
I recommend it for fans of Dawkins, but I wouldn't start here.(less)
This book starts as a simple biography of George Tenet, director of CIA during part of the Clinton and Bush administrations, but it becomes much more....moreThis book starts as a simple biography of George Tenet, director of CIA during part of the Clinton and Bush administrations, but it becomes much more.
Detailing operations at CIA in the years prior to, during, and after 9/11, the book provides valuable insight into a world that the average person simply has to access to.
The book is extremely interesting. George Tenet gives us far more than a tome of facts, he provides an actual narrative where he is the main character. The book talks not only about CIA, but people he knew and worked with, how he felt about events, and conversations he had with members of various presidential administrations.
The book does an excellent job of sucking you in. It starts a bit slow, but after a few chapters Tenet really hits his stride, and the book becomes difficult to put down.
I learned a great deal from this book. In fact, many times fundamental assumptions I had about terrorism and 9/11 were challenged by the book, and I was forced to revise a few of my opinions. One thing that fundamentally changed was my view toward the possibility of preventing 9/11. In light of memos sent to Condoleeza Rice titled "Bin Laden Determined To Strike U.S." I had been of the opinion that the administration could have done more to prevent 9/11. I am no longer convinced that is the case - that warning looked like hundreds of others that wound up going nowhere. I am also now convinced of the intelligence of terrorist organizations, whose actions described in the book paint them as far more clever than the "us vs. them" mentality otherwise affords. Before reading this book, I felt that terrorists are dangerous because they are happy to die. Now I view them as dangerous because they are happy to die and they are very smart.
Tenet is often a tad too autobiographical in his writing, getting into personality details that don't seem entirely relevant. He also suffers from what I can only imagine is a common attribute among people in his field: acronym poisoning. Tenet uses acronyms for nearly every organization and person he discusses. As the book goes on, the rate of acronyms per page increases. There is even an appendix in the back of the book, which I found myself having to flip to frequently.
Tenet occasionally jumps all over the place. For the most part, the book is structured as a chronological narrative: first this happened, then this happened, etc. Occasionally though, he will delve into relevant details of events that happened months of even years later, but then go back to the "present time" in the narrative. This can get somewhat annoying.
The worst thing about the book is also one of the best things. There is one chapter in particular that talks about Al Queda's attempts to acquire nuclear weapons. If your view is that people in caves do not have the money or ability to acquire a nuclear weapon, this chapter will change your mind (it changed mine). This chapter was extremely difficult to get through, simply because it's so terrifying.
I found myself putting down the book very frequently during this chapter, simply finding it too difficult to stomach.
The chapters about the lead-up to the Iraq war are equally difficult to get through. According to Tenet, the CIA essentially was forced to take the fall for the pre-war intelligence, even though the CIA under his watch was well aware of the realities of Iraq's WMD programs. These chapters were infuriating to read.
But since these feelings are partially the point of the book, it's hard to hold these facts against Tenet. These chapters are difficult to read, and they should be.
If you're interested in an "inside look" at government and the intelligence community during the middle east peace process negotiations under Clinton, September 11th, and the Iraq war, you'll greatly enjoy the book. It rarely (but occasionally) comes off as Tenet trying to shift blame off himself and his staff, and the book is inherently one-sided, but it's an extremely informative and interesting side.(less)