Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Cyberspies: The Secret History of Surveillance, Hacking, and Digital Espionage

Rate this book
The previously untold―and previously highly classified―story of the conflux of espionage and technology, with a compelling narrative rich with astonishing revelations taking readers from World War II to the internet age.

As the digital era become increasingly pervasive, the intertwining forces of computers and espionage are reshaping the entire world; what was once the preserve of a few intelligence agencies now affects us all.

Corera’s compelling narrative takes us from the Second World War through the Cold War and the birth of the internet to the present era of hackers and surveillance. The book is rich with historical detail and characters, as well as astonishing revelations about espionage carried out in recent times by the UK, US, and China. Using unique access to the National Security Agency, GCHQ, Chinese officials, and senior executives from some of the most powerful global technology companies, Gordon Corera has gathered compelling stories from heads of state, hackers and spies of all stripes.

Cyberspies is a ground-breaking exploration of the new space in which the worlds of espionage, diplomacy, international business, science, and technology collide.

448 pages, Hardcover

First published June 11, 2015

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Gordon Corera

13 books108 followers
Gordon Corera is a British journalist. He is the Security Correspondent for the BBC.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
225 (28%)
4 stars
374 (47%)
3 stars
164 (20%)
2 stars
28 (3%)
1 star
4 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 104 reviews
Profile Image for David Rubenstein.
804 reviews2,535 followers
July 1, 2018
This is a comprehensive history of spying in the age of technology. Without giving a clue about his political persuasion, and without giving a clue about his personal opinions, Corera objectively spells out the battles going on between spies, hackers, governments, citizens and corporations. While reading this book, I was never sure which portions of the book were revelatory, and which portions were simply summarizing facts that were already in the public domain. Nevertheless, Corera paints an amazing picture of the forces behind spying in the digital world.

The book gives a strong emphasis to the efforts of the British in cryptography. The amazing story behind the breaking of the Enigma code is well known. Not so well known are the other code-breaking activities that occurred before, during, and after World War II.

One thing I had never given much thought to, is he dilemma between offense and defense. This is the problem that spy agencies want to break the secret codes of others, while simultaneously protecting their own secrets. The technical methods used to encrypt and decrypt texts seem to imply that you cannot have it both ways--you cannot make your own messages perfectly safe, if you want to guarantee access to decrypt the messages of your adversaries.

The book covers not only the code-breaking activities of governments, but the hacking into corporate computers. Governments seem not to worry about this too much, but perhaps they should. A country's economy is built upon corporations, and if their data is not safe, then how safe can an economy be from malicious tampering?
387 reviews6 followers
December 7, 2015
A highly revelatory work, Gordon Corera’s Intercept has a lot to say. Ostensibly a book about the use of computers by the espionage agencies (while he touches on other nations, primarily this book looks at those of the US and UK) it also has much to add on debates concerning the balance of power between the state and the individual, personal privacy, and economics.

An exhaustive history of the dawn of the computer age through the lens of the development of modern espionage, Intercept takes us from the censors tapping telegraph cables during the First World War, through the Enigma years of the Second, the dawn of cyber spying during the Cold War, and onto the age of hackers, zero day exploits, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden. Throughout revelations come thick and fast. We learn that during World War 1, Britain severed the telegraph cables into Germany; effectively isolating the enemy from the world and thus instigating the first ever act of sabotage against a nation’s communications infrastructure. Later we learn that most of the world’s telecommunications still travel via undersea cables, with most of the UK’s traffic landing in Cornwall. This has allowed GCHQ to simply sit on the wires collecting metadata on most of the transnational communications coming into the UK. Or how about the facility in London whose sole purpose is to reverse engineer all the components Hauwei plans to install in the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure? The Chinese telecommunications giant won the contract to modernise the system and such is the extent of the West’s paranoia concerning Chinese cyber spying and/or sabotage, every single circuit board has to be checked and double-checked.

Each revelation is more startling than the last, but there are hidden depths to Corera’s book. For example, we learn how the development of computers was pushed and even funded in part by the espionage agencies interests in them as tools. Would IBM have grown as large or as quickly if it weren’t for contracts from the NSA? We’ll never know for certain but the author outlines a strong case. In effect he argues what others have more explicitly elsewhere, namely that the idea of a completely free market is a myth. Rather than develop in a vacuum from the state, or worse, the state act as a hindrance, it is often state subsidies in the form of research grants, favoured status over competitors, intelligence passed on to aid in the winning of contracts, that has allowed industries and companies to flourish. There is certainly enough evidence here to demonstrate that the birth of the computer age was at least hastened by the largess of the defence and espionage agencies.

But perhaps the book’s greatest strength is when discussing the issues surrounding the power of the state versus that of the citizen and issues around personal privacy. I don’t know what Gordon Corera’s personal views on all this; he’s careful to remain neutral. For all I know he might be mortified to learn that for me his book acted as a reassurance. The Edward Snowdens of the world would have you believe that the mass collection of data by the NSA and GCHQ are the thin end of the wedge and that our civil liberties are at stake. But within the pages of Corera’s book is a strong explanation of why this material is needed. A strong argument is made that the agencies concerned have no interest in the average person’s data, but merely need to scan the data passing through the wires as a whole in order to look for the patterns criminals and terrorists leave behind. Should the agencies be stymied in this, we might all be more at risk. An analogy is made that in order for the security services to find the needle in the haystack (the needle being paedophiles, organised criminals, terrorists) they need to be able to gather and see the whole haystack.

All in all this is a great read and one that left me far more informed about the world we live in and the risks facing us as individuals and citizens in the digital age.
Profile Image for Eric_W.
1,920 reviews354 followers
July 17, 2021
One of the most overlooked parts of the Muller report is the detailed information the FBI, et al., collected on Russian interference in the 2016 election. They determined the names and location of the GRU officers and cyberspies who conducted the operation, what they did and how they did it. It was an extraordinary piece of sleuthing. Cyberspies places all this in historical context.

This book has something for everyone: history, spying, and interesting characters. While he argues that "hacking" using technology has a long history dating back millennia, he chose to begin with the cutting of German cables on the ocean floor during WW I. Leaping-frogging rather quickly he then begins with the use of computers (people, those who computed) and especially Flowers and Turing who respectively understood the larger picture and how "valves" (vacuum tubes in American) could be used binarily to process data. Along the way, he tries to answer questions of what cyber spying is, how such developed and its impact in today’s world politically, economically, and in the intelligence communities. An ambitious goal indeed.i.e.

There are two key components to the world of spies: attribution, i.e. can you trace back a decision or instruction to its source; and integrity, the accuracy of the data, for getting just one component of a message wrong could mean sending a missile to the wrong target. Scrambling a message so it can't be read by the unauthorized is an inherent part of spycraft and technology has made all of that both easier and more difficult at the same time. “Few outside the intelligence world understand the extent to which spies in the US and Britain perceive technology as an existential threat to their work,” Corera writes. “An arms race is on between spy services to exploit technology. Only those who adapt will survive.”

Spying has more than just military significance. The Russians and others have taken economic espionage to a new level. Collecting information peripherally is important. The author provides an example of Russian trolling for information about a particular executive whom the intelligence services had determined was gay but not out of the closet. “The hackers then sent him an email from a gay rights organization which they suspected he would open since it looked as if it was sent to him, but in fact held malware,” Corera writes. “They then counted on the fact that, even if the executive did suspect it was malware, he would not be willing to go to his company’s IT department or security team for fear it would reveal his sexuality. This is classic, high level, targeted Russian espionage.”

There's intelligence and then there's information. Spying in common parlance conjures up images of dangerous men with guns in tuxedos in scary situations who can leap tall buildings in a single jump. Or the silent bureaucratic types of Le Carre. The author has a wonderful metaphor for the difference in how spying is done by different countries. Let's say you want to find out what kind of sand is on a particular beach in some foreign country. The UK would send a submarine with divers in wet suits (bow ties and suits underneath) to surreptitiously retrieve a sample of sand from the beach. The Americans would use technology to and fly satellites, drones, and planes over the area to take lots of pictures. The Chinese would send tourists to the country to have a good time, visit the beaches, and then shake out their towels when they got home.

It's a comprehensive look at how spying developed, including the misconceptions about what spying is and its development over time into not just military purposes uses but economic, as well. Corera includes a detailed history and an examination of how cyber spying was affected by the revelations of the collection of data by government agencies by Snowden, and suggestions on what the future of cyber spying and offensive actions may hold for us. It's organized in a logical chronological way and intricate cyber threats and attacks are explained clearly.

The scale of cyber espionage has evolved way beyond the wildest dreams of a former Stasi officer who noted their maximum capability was to tap forty lines at once. Now, given that almost all of the world’s internet traffic flows at some time or another through the United States, the NSA, with its sweeping authority and collection devices, has access to everything. Worried about public encryption keys, they sweep up and store ALL of the telephone traffic in the U.S. and many other places arguing they don’t listen to the content but merely search the metadata attached to digital traffic. And since even analog conversations get converted to digital at some point, that’s everything. Metadata is easy to search and often more revealing than content.

In their search to build an even larger haystack (you can’t find the needle without the haystack) they even resorted to techniques even aside from the famous clipper chip debacle. In one instance, discovered by Kaspersky Labs, they arranged to have malware hidden into DVDs that were given to participants of hacker and security conferences attended by analysts from all around the world that contained records and presentations of the conference. This gave them worldwide access to computers run by the most sensitive personnel.

Snowden’s revelations of the NSA’s spying capabilities had less affect on national security than it did on business. It’s hard to maintain a global outreach and increase your revenue if it becomes widely known that anything you do using the company’s products will become NSA fodder. Zuckerberg, in particular, was furious after the revelations, complaining to Obama that his business model was being hurt. Screw national security; you’re hurting our business, was the message.

1984 doesn’t even remotely compare to today’s capabilities.

Some reviewers have complained that a weakness of the book is its specialization and detail; that's what I liked. Unfortunately, the world changes so fast that more recent events are obviously not included. Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin's Most Dangerous Hackers by Andy Greenberg fills that gap and should also be read. Overall a fascinating glimpse at the evolution of the new cyber world.

N.B. Years ago I read Clifford Stoll's The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage (1990) (how the author tracked down a spy ring because he wanted to know how and why 75 cents of computer time was unaccounted for.) Stoll is highlighted for his work in this book. Stoll also wrote (in 1996) a prescient view of the problems inherent in the Internet: Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway . For a truly prescient view of the problems with interconnectivity written in 1955, see a SF masterpiece by Thomas Ryan, The Adolescence of P-1

18 reviews
January 6, 2016
I really wanted to give this book a higher rating, but I just can't.

The subject is interesting, but Gordon drags on... a lot. And there's a bunch of stuff being repeated as well. He explains one thing on one page and then two pages later he explains the same thing again.

I can really only recommend this to anyone who's really, really into spying and hacking throughout history.
Profile Image for Elli Williams.
116 reviews7 followers
December 6, 2016
From now on I won't complain about my husband's 50 letter random passwords...

Very well written book. It wasn't " end of the world" but gave real examples, spoke with NSA, FBI, CIA as well as MI5 and MI6 directors. Not too technical either.
Profile Image for Matthew Ciarvella.
325 reviews20 followers
May 20, 2017
"Cyberspies" is exhaustive, but in the way that climbing a mountain is exhaustive, where the reward is worth the effort. It's comprehensive, leaving you with the sense of no stone having been left unturned. Most importantly, however, it is neutral. By the end of the book, I couldn't suss out author Gordon Corera's allegiances on the privacy vs. security debate. Does he think Snowden is a traitor or a hero? Are groups like the NSA doing necessary work or have they become the latest incarnation of the Stasi?

Based on the book alone, it's impossible to say. And for an issue as contentious as cyber-security, surveillance, spying, and information, it's a rare treasure to not have politics get in the way of the presentation of the facts. Corera's work offers up the information in a careful, thoughtful way, and invites us to draw our own conclusions. What does digital privacy mean to our lives? What are we willing to trade for it?

Another interesting aspect of Corera's work is that we get a British perspective on things, which is a refreshing change of pace. If you read about the history of computers for long enough, eventually you start to the see the patterns and the same names over and over. And while Americans did, indeed, create the internet as we know it today, the history of computers and cyber-security isn't an American-only topic. Corera's perspective, both informed and directed by his identity as a Brit, means that this isn't the same old story.

Even as he maintains authorial neutrality, he makes observations that don't seem to occur to American authors in quite the same way. "Americans trust their corporations and mistrust their government," he notes, "while for Brits, it's the other way around."

If you're interested in the topic of cyber-security, espionage, or information privacy, this book is a strong recommendation. It might not be my first foray into the subject if you're a novice; Corera assumes his readers have a baseline proficiency with computers even if he takes care not to overwhelm them with technical jargon. But if you're just now starting to think about topics like cryptography and digital privacy, this might not be the best starting place. Add it to your list of books to come back to once you're comfortable with the topic.

Regardless, Corera feels like an author to watch. His style is direct and pleasantly journalistic, which feels increasingly rare in an era that seems to treat information and entertainment as synonyms. That doesn't mean that this is a boring book in the slightest, but it feels pleasantly old-fashioned in its aims, rather like the Cold War-era spies that Corera writes about. And like those old time-y methods like invisible ink and typewriters, this writing style might just be exactly what we need in today's world.
Profile Image for Jurij Fedorov.
364 reviews65 followers
December 3, 2022
1 Birth

Intro chapter.

2 Marriage

WW2 spy work.

3 Into the Cold

USSR and the West post WW2. Britain and USA working together. Both are still bad at spy work. They largely create and break codes in wars.

4 Coming of Age

Early internet and hacking in universities.

5 Spy-hunting

Encryption hacking. Like reading analog signals to see what the message is.

6 Crypto Wars

Crypto protection.

7 Attack

Attack on American systems. Often even by random civilians.

8 Enter the KGB

USSR hacking USA systems. USA can't hack USSR as they have not much online or on computers. German civilian hacker selling stuff to USSR.

9 Out of the Cold and into Cyberspace

CERN and internet and more about security.

10 Titan Rain

Chinese hacking and stealing tech secrets from USA and Europe.

11 In the Wires

Western nations buying Chinese electronics and getting spied on.

12 Britain and the Cyber Spies

State network security.

13 Dissent

Chinese hackers hacking Tibetan groups outside China.

14 Sabotage

USA hacking Iranian nuclear plant. Russian hackers.

15 The Lights Go Off

North Korea hacking Sony.

16 Rebirth – Cables

Spying by internet companies.

17 Britain

Terror attack in Britain and USA and how to spy on people online. Extremely basic.

18 Exposure

More about the internet where the author feels the need to explain how the internet works.

My final opinion on the book

The writing is very clear and easy to understand which is perfect for an audiobook. But man this has way too much rambling. Like 50% of this is just the author rambling on about stuff that everyone knows. Like saying that the internet matters today as there is much data on people there. Or explaining basic spy work as "they collect information and use the information". Like, it's often stuff so extremely basic that you wonder if he understands the subject or maybe is just filling out pages for some reason. This book could very, very easily be edited half as long without losing any info. Which is shocking. An editor getting to this book could make this into a great intro to the topic. As of now you have to like this sort of meaningless rambling to really like it. There are some good stories about hacking and spy work, but all are merely introduced. There is no place to expand on this because he wants to use the space on his rambling. It would be better if he had picked out maybe 10 big spy stories and then had 10 chapters about that. Nothing more.

You are better off watching docs or reading books on the single stories. This overview is so basic that it's probably ideal for high schoolers or total newcomers to the topic just seeking an overview and nothing more. For the rest it will feel like a book that's basically a collection of short Wikipedia intro articles about 300 different topics. It's good writing and never dry as such. But with overviews there is no emotional aspect, no energy, no clear idea. It's a bunch of things that happened once. You read it and forget it after 10 minutes.

The book is very readable. But with free docs, podcast, and plenty of deep books it has some great competition and as it never takes a deep dive into any topic it feels like it never gets great. So I can't recommend it.
Profile Image for Jay French.
2,041 reviews74 followers
February 5, 2017
“Cyberspies” is a number of stories about security and encryption, computers and spies, and hacking. While the book could have drilled down to technical descriptions, these are kept quite understandable throughout. The chapters were topical stories, mostly chronological. Some are relatively well known to readers of Wired and the like, but I found new aspects of the stories brought to light throughout. For example, Clifford Stoll’s story of tracking down a KGB hacker at a government lab is retold through one chapter, summarizing Stoll’s “The Cuckoo’s Egg”. Another chapter focused on Stuxnet. I appreciated the way the author divided stories up, at times focusing on corporate responses, the technology, the hackers, the hunters, the scientists, the politicians, the military – this kept my interest level high throughout the book. There is quite a lot about different countries, the hackers and the hackees. And there’s an overabundance of history about British espionage and anti-espionage agencies, which is understandable given the author’s previous work on a history of MI6. At times, when discussing the great efforts to hack or to deny or trace hackers, it sounds a bit like a James Bond movie. I listened to the audio version of this book, narrated by Gildart Jackson. His British accent worked very well with this content.
Profile Image for William.
413 reviews10 followers
January 9, 2017
Excellent book which doesn't take a significant political position. The research was top notch. I enjoyed the format and writing style as it was easy to read without excessive technical language. It was balanced and fair exploring many sides of the questions of espionage, privacy and the use of data and computers. Enjoyed his book immensely and recommend it to anyone with an interest in the topic of computers, "spying" and so many other inter-related topics and issues.
Profile Image for Tim.
204 reviews1 follower
April 7, 2017
Decent book - not a lot of stuff I didn't already know, but author tied it all together well.
Profile Image for Kieran.
78 reviews7 followers
April 13, 2021
A good read

Very enjoyable and informative. A concise piece about the future of our data and espionage online. Thrilling and scary read.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,066 reviews23 followers
August 16, 2016
A good (very) high level look at the problem of spying and warfare blurring together with the coming of the Internet (and computerisation in general). Contains zero technical content (like all BBC reporting) which really lets the book down. I'm sure the intent was to make the book accessible but other books manage this by explaining technical issues, not by completely ignoring them. It also suffers from time compression of the past as the author quickly catches up to modern times making this less of a history book and more a contemporary report.

If you compare it to Code Warriors by Stephen Budiansky this comes up really thin and light on the historical and technical content. If you were to pick one go for that instead.
Profile Image for Patrick Pilz.
564 reviews
September 23, 2016
From Bletchley Park to the suburbs of Washington DC, from Alan Turing to Edward Snowden: a book about cyber espionage from its inception during world war 2 to todays balancing act of privacy concerns and counter terrorism desires.

The book as a very global and balanced view and does not politicize the facts. It presents itself in a very neutral but still very British world view. Nonetheless, an interesting read for anyone concerned or interested in the topic. At times a little lengthy, but that may be British as well.
Profile Image for Robert Davidson.
179 reviews10 followers
January 21, 2016
The Computer is one of the truly great inventions of modern life and the Author takes us through the early days up to the present with a vast array of very interesting information. Nation States while observing the niceties of Diplomacy are spending lots of time and money spying on each other using the ever evolving Computer technology and Human nature being what it is this will go on. Great read.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,119 reviews27 followers
September 5, 2016
This was mostly a balanced look at espionage in the digital age, though I personally think it doesn't do enough to dispel some of the ridiculous nonsense that intelligence agencies are peddling about terrorism, encryption and surveillance. For one thing, I think no discussion of terrorism should be complete without at least mentioning that it's an issue that (directly) affects very few people, and the massive investment we've poured into "stopping" it is a HUGE waste of money.
193 reviews2 followers
March 2, 2017
Not a great fan of the constant use of "cyber" here, but this is a fascinating deep dive, mostly focusing on the current state of play from Stuxnet on (though the book isn't quite recent enough to have any IoT coverage). The technical side seemed well researched and the author clearly knows his military players.
Profile Image for Otto Benz.
34 reviews9 followers
February 4, 2017
This is the secret history of technological interception of communications, spying, country-espionage, terrorism and counter-terrorism. Interesting - particularly the more recent bits, although a bit repetitive and rambling
Profile Image for Drew Jaehnig.
16 reviews
December 22, 2016
A must read for anyone who does not understand what is going in the cyber-security world with a rich description of how we got here.
220 reviews3 followers
November 24, 2017
I received this book as a gift and it is a nice one. The book covers spying and how the computer age has provided a treasure trove of information, good and bad, that is available to bad actors who can use it to hurt us financially, politically and personally. Thanks to database accumulation of personal data and all kinds of data that is collected by so many different entities, including ourselves, and the internet which is basically an open book of information, bad actors (spies) can use this information to hurt us.

The book goes into details on the history of how the computer information became a target and why. It is a bit complicated, as some interest in computers, phones, and databases is required to appreciate the topic. I enjoy all of this stuff, so for me the book was interesting. It really didn't tell me anything that I didn't know since I do have a pretty good knowledge of what is happening. But to read it all in one place is very terrifying because the bottom line is that we truly have no privacy anymore, and we are basically unprotected if someone truly wants to attack us individually, through companies or through the state. There is hope that ignorance is bliss, that we can hide in our obscurity as part of the masses, but unfortunately we do fall into many different filters of data, regardless of who we are, where we are, or what we do. Unless someone is a hermit not using a phone, banking or any other electronic tools of the modern society, that someone is subject to being hacked.

The book talks about company security and national security. He points to Russia and China as using data to harm us and to advance their societies by stealing trademark info, etc. But the bottom line is that we, the United States, probably have the most information to use against the world and the ability to use it. Now do we use it as 'white' hats, or are we in the 'black' hat mode also? The book focuses more on the British state point of view, but while we may be ahead of Britian, we both share many trade secrets between us. While we do get hacked often, the book doesn't really get into what we do with all the info at the national level. I doubt the NSA is any other countries' friend, but we do like to think that we are the good guys.

Bottom line, this is an interesting book if you care about the topic. It is a bit scary in that for every system that blocks a hacker, another hacker will figure a way around it. We can have full security if we are willing to have a closed internet, but we prefer the openness that the internet provides. Therefore, we will always be subject to a lack of personal and national privacy.
Profile Image for Lanre Dahunsi.
175 reviews17 followers
March 20, 2017
Book #17: Cyberspies: The Secret History of Surveillance, Hacking, and Digital Espionage by Gordon Corera | Finished March 20th 2017 #100BooksChallenge

Favourite Take Aways

The computer was born to spy. The first computer was created in secret to aid intelligence work, but all computers (and especially networked computers) are uniquely useful for – and vulnerable to – espionage. The speed and ingenuity of technological innovation has often blinded us to understanding this historical truth and its implications.

It is now easier than ever for information to be stolen and leaked. An ever-increasing dependence on inherently insecure technology will only accelerate this trend as cars, watches, fridges and an array of everyday items start to get hacked by a range of malicious actors.

All the twenty-first-century talk of ‘cyber security’ is far from new – it is merely the modern reworking of much older fears over the vulnerability of computers, vulnerabilities that spies would come to exploit.

Cyberspies is a ground-breaking exploration of the new space in which the worlds of espionage, diplomacy, international business, science, and technology collide

What is spying?

At its simplest it is finding out secrets. Since time immemorial, that has involved establishing the intentions of another state, such as its plans and capabilities for waging war. Those secrets may also be the identities of people – such as those who want to remain hidden, like enemy spies operating in your country – or terrorists planning to attack. This takes spying into the trickier domestic domain, where it can also be used to root out dissent or as a form of social control, in the way the Stasi deployed surveillance in East Germany during the Cold War.

The more connected a computer becomes, the more powerful it may prove to be for the user, but also the more vulnerable. Connections with other computers immediately introduce an element of risk. This was clear from the start, but became increasingly clear as computers and communications merged over the coming decades.
Profile Image for James.
296 reviews3 followers
November 10, 2019
When you think you understand a topic and some of it's history only to find a resource that completely expands every nuance with details you had not even thought of or considered around the history of computers and cyber spying, this would be the resource. From the first couple of chapters through the history of code breaking machines to the earliest computers and their uses, I found this book fascinating in what new avenues it was exploring. The Enigma machines and their uses along the wars, how they tried to code break and intercept messages, to certain countries developing systems that others could not break.

One may think about cyber spying today and how pretty much everything is hackable to how some countries developed low tech methods that were not hackable, not on the internet and how cracking those codes created spy agencies. Fast forward to today and signals intelligence interception over fiber, devices intercepting, servers configured to intercept and everything thing else going on around us and you wonder if anything is truly secure. Almost makes one not want to communicate anything over the internet but honestly that's not realistic nor will it ever be in our future digital world. This would be however one point in life where everything that you may have that is digital is accessible to someone whether you want them to have that information or not.

Some other sections of the book that I want to give mention too as well were the section of the secured email and the 4 character font provided upon government orders and the section on the earliest malware and viruses. The having a system of computers for DNS attacks and other attacks countries have completed and are still performing today, it's a tale of being cautious, having air gaps when needed and just taking a moment to see how others are exploiting computers and information around the world.
Profile Image for John.
117 reviews6 followers
February 3, 2021
Frightening: again, this is not light reading. My highlighter pen and notebook had work aplenty.
Everything I will ever need to know about how vulnerable states, organisations and individuals are and how that is so unlikely to change.
I was telling my mother of the ‘intercept towers’ at the airports – when you leave the plane, walk to the terminal and turn your cell phone on, you are connected to a tower operated by the states intelligence/security service. That tower, after a short delay, redirects you to the public service tower. But your phone and all that is within is now being read by ‘state security.’
“What?” she says. “Never?”
“Who cares?” You might say. “I’m an innocent civilian. I’m no foreign agent.”
Correct. If you were a ‘person of interest’ the algorithms used by these agencies would place you on the ‘Immediate – Track and Follow’ list. But you’re not, so, you get dropped into the ‘Data to be stored’ bin.
But then, you spent twenty years of your life building a business, that you’ve just sold for close on a million. Kids are at university. The wife says, “Let’s go walk along the ‘Great Wall’.”
Off you go. While you’re treading the ancient stones, a hacker, untraceable, but later investigation points to the probability of the hack originating in China, pilfers your new wealth from the three bank accounts you have. Because your bank details along with everything else the hacker needs is on your phone.
Far-fetched? Maybe.
This book is hung off the ‘spy world’. And attracts the attention of people like me.
I’d suggest everyone should read this.
I’m even happier to have read it. Like me, the author, on page 103, draws parallels with Star Wars.
Whilst the pandemic remains, I’m steering clear of the ‘air-boat’. When I next venture off to foreign parts. I won’t be turning my phone on.
To summarise this book, I would say, “Beware the Chinese.”
I mentioned that somewhere else. I think it was, ‘Democracy for Sale: Dark Money and Dirty Politics’.
Profile Image for Marsha.
837 reviews5 followers
October 31, 2021
"Be afraid. Be VERY afraid!" Despite the fact that today is Halloween, this does not indicate that the book is a classic conventional horror story. It's true, and it's current, and it's recent and currently eminent history as it is developing!
I found this book both informative and terrifying and it elucidated several points that had been in the news. It made me think about Russia, England, Iran, Israel, China, etc., and how they all use computers and electronics spine on everyone and try to keep up. And we learn that spying and security are two sides of the same coin.
Furthermore, famous names that have been a prominent aspect in news represent a combination of the desire to inform the people of what their government is capable, and to protect people from both their government and threats. As a citizen of the currently developing world of information, I like that, for the most part, people and societies are "good", and they DO most of this for protection and personal security. We spy on everyone – our colleagues, our enemies, and our citizens. For the most part, knowledge so gained is simply stored but ignored, but we feel that we need to have on hand JUST in case. And yes, everyone's doing it. Of course, this presents the opportunity for enemies or individuals to collect and use this kind of knowledge against US – it's constantly being done both against US and other countries (England, for instance).
I really liked and appreciated this book and some of the clarifications and issues pointed out. I'm not SURE what to do with this info, but I'm glad you have it. And if everyone involved more on the same page as I, then there would be no concerns; as it is, I'M TERRIFIED!
May 24, 2020
This was just so interesting. From WWII code breakers at Bletchley Park to Edward Snowden, a look at technology, privacy, and the power of data. I don’t enjoy math, coding, or engineering, but I’m fascinated by how technology impacts the world.

Corera does a good job not taking sides in the balance between the right of privacy and the need for espionage. You want law enforcement to have the ability to track down pedophiles and terrorists online, but what if that means giving your government the ability to become tyrants?

I was pretty astounded by all the examples that show that powerful governments worldwide have (and use) the ability to track pretty much everything we do that uses data—from computers to phones, email to social media, banking to blog posts, public and private files. And not just for high value targets, but for the public at large.

The examples of corporate and military data theft were mind boggling. Imagine spending billions developing a fighter jet and then having another country hack in and steal all the specs. Huge ramifications.

The ways data has changed espionage were fun to think about. Spying has largely gone from the stereotype of James Bond to the stereotype of a blue haired geek sitting in a windowless room drinking coke and breaking into military systems. Who would have predicted that?
Profile Image for Scott.
177 reviews
April 27, 2021
Exceptionally informative book. At the same time the reporting has a considerable political bias, point of view and frequent reference thinly veiled. It wasn’t until after covering the whole book that I realized I should look up if perhaps any political affiliations of either British or US politicians. Well what you know , sure enough there is! Not shocked at all. This is where the book loses credibility both from a standpoint of empirical research reporting, good journalism, etc. The book over the passage of chapters begins to sound look a political point of view and this becomes excessive. Decidedly British is also clear that the author spent some time in the United States in notice academia and politics. Because the author doesn’t say this up front the book, Corera’s book starts as an unbiased repairing of cyber espionage. The development of an ongoing bent of the author takes away from the depth of research for much of the book. If it were not for this frequent bias I may have given it 5 stars. But the credibility suffers when it becomes about policy decisions and clear reference to one side. This is where the book fails. Really useful background information if you can get near the thinly veiled editorial expose.
10 reviews
June 7, 2018
The book starts very interesting and I was expecting the same level of details and background on various cases. Unfortunately the second half is less detailed and I found myself skimming through the pages. I was disappointed to learn so little about ECHELON, for instance. Also - although there is a whole chapter dedicated to him - the revelations of Snowden are commented instead of analyzed. Xkeyscore is not mentioned at all despite it being a fantastic spy tool. Tempora is also downplayed (in just a couple of paragraphs). The intervention of the NSA in establishing crypto standards and protocols is reduced to weakening of RNGs (the duel Elliptic curve algorithm) while it is known the agency also payed $10 million RSA to use weakend crypto in its products.
Actually there is a long list of very intriguing NSA programs, some of which should have been at least mentioned. Also Flame and Stuxnet are discussed (in insufficient depth IMHO) but there is no word of the most puzzling malware ever created (known to public, of course), Gauss.
Well, I am intrigued enough and will read the other books of Gordon Corega.
Profile Image for J.
24 reviews
April 16, 2021
I view this book as equipping you to answer the question “Where is the line between the privacy of citizens and the ability to protect them from threats (terrorism, cybercrime, the potential of a hostile state to crash the grid in the event of full out war)?”. It does this by examining the modern (WW1-around Snowden) history of signals intelligence, cryptography, and hacking, and providing examples of mass surveillance winning wars, being used by totalitarian governments to suppress human rights, and successfully and unsuccessfully using surveillance/espionage to protect citizens from extremists and cyber criminals.

It also presents the arguments (with quotes) from a variety of people connected to the cyberintelligence world, and well enough that he had me wanting to agree with several different (and conflicting) stances throughout the book. If the title sounds compelling to you or you’re interested in the modern questions on data collection and use, this won’t give you much technical information, but it will provide you a lot of background on how we got to today and what some of the big issues are.
Profile Image for Elmwoodblues.
297 reviews7 followers
April 25, 2019
Many technological advances throughout the ages have been driven by, or at least co-supported by, our species' penchant for organized violence against one another. The axe a carpenter used to hone wood, in order to build a meeting hall where a constitution might be drafted, may have gained a valued spot initially for its ability to cleave the head of a rival; woven blankets kept settlers warm, but also served as virus-delivery devices. It can be difficult to see the alternate, more militant use inherent in the DNA of many ancient and modern inventions, once the peaceful utilities become the norm.

Corera does a good job of making the point that the original impetus of computing was in secretive and high-stakes code breaking, and how that birthmark has remained into our digital present. It may not be our craniums or our immune systems that we worry about in the digital realm; but the idea that stealing a rival's secrets and his privacy gave rise to computing is to put in perspective those things that are most vulnerable when faced with what is now a help, but was once a weapon.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 104 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.