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Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World [Paperback]

Bruce Schneier
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
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Amazon Review

At the moment, it seems that hardly a day passes without fresh news of some glaring Internet security breach; online banks, of all things, seem to be particularly vulnerable at the moment. All of which will come as no great surprise to network security cum cryptography guru, Bruce Schnier. His latest book, Secrets and Lies, paints a very gloomy overview of the true state of network security. Schnier, founder of Counterpane Internet Security, has some harsh words to say about the state of network security, though, to be fair, his criticisms are directed far and wide; not one scapegoat, (not even Microsoft) is singled out for special attention. Depressingly, the words "fundamentally flawed" crop up time and time again in this absorbing book.

Secrets and Lies is a thorough backgrounder in all aspects of network security, an extremely wide remit that stretches from passwords to encryption, passing through authentication and attack trees along the way. The book is divided in to three broad categories, The Landscape, which covers attacks, adversaries and the need for security; Technologies, which discusses cryptography, authentication, network security, secure hardware and security tricks; and concludes with Strategies, which looks at vulnerabilities, risk assessment, security policies and the future of security. Mercifully there's a dim light at the end of this tunnel and Schnier ultimately remains upbeat about maintaining computer security and details a way forward in his conclusion.

Although working in a necessarily techie environment, Schnier's book is surprisingly jargon-free and easy to understand, even if you're not au fait with the inner workings of TCP/IP--it's common-sense, practical style makes a potentially dense and arcane subject accessible by just about anybody. It's also bang up to date, which makes for a pleasant change. Secrets and Lies is never less than thought-provoking and should be essential reading for every network administrator in the land. Be afraid, be very afraid! --Roger Gann --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“…The security technologies available are described in a user–friendly way without going into depth...” ( Computer Bulletin , January 2005) “…peppered with lively anecdotes and aphorisms, making it a really accessible read...” ( The ISSG Magazine , Autumn, 2004) “…fascinating read…peppered with lively anecdotes…” ( The ISSG Magazine , October 2004) "...make yourself better informed. Read this book." ( CVu, The Journal of the ACCU , Vol 16(3), June 2004)


"...this book is of value to anyone whose business depends on safe use of email, the Web, or other networked communications" and "belongs in every manager′s library." –– Business Week "Schneier...peppers the book with lively anecdotes and aphorisms, making it unusually accessible." –– Los Angeles Times Schneier "offers a primer in practical computer security aimed at those shopping, communicating or doing business online––almost everyone, in other words." –– The Economist Schneier is "one of the foremost experts on computer security" and his 1995 Wiley book Applied Cryptography is "the landmark text on the security hazards of the Internet." –– Time Out New York Schneier "gives the state of the art on corporate security." –– Schneier "wrote the book on applied cryptography" –– Information Security Secrets & Lies is "a written, well researched exploration of digital security as a system." –– "Although Schneier′s style is lively and spiced with unusual vocabulary (try looking up banausic and flagitious in your Funk and Wagnalls), no one is going to pick up this book for the sake of a a good read. They want the information contained therein." –– "In Secrets and Lies the things that actually go wrong are explained by lots of concrete examples, some stunning." –– New Scientist "Schneier′s book is an excellent read.... He understands the issues and the issues behind the issues." ––Bill Machrone Review Anne Fisher calls Secrets and Lies "a jewel box of little surprises you can actually use" and refers to the book as "a startlingly lively treatise." –– Fortune , November 27, 2000, p. 304 "Secrets and Lies should begin to dispel the fog of deception and special pleading around security, and it′s fun.." –– New Scientist , 2nd September 2000 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Author

I started writing this book in 1997; it was originally due to the publisher by April 1998. I eventually delivered it in April 2000, two years late. I have never before missed a publication deadline: books, articles, or essays. I pride myself on timeliness: A piece of writing is finished when it's due, not when it's done.

This book was different. I got two-thirds of the way through the book without giving the reader any hope at all. And it was about then I realised that I didn't have the hope to give. I had reached the limitations of what I thought security technology could do. I had to hide the manuscript away for over a year; it was too depressing to work on.

I came to security from cryptography, and framed the problem with classical cryptography thinking. Most writings about security come from this perspective, and it can be summed up pretty easily: Security threats are to be avoided using preventive countermeasures.

For decades we have used this approach to computer security. We draw boxes around the different players and lines between them. We define different attackers -- eavesdroppers, impersonators, thieves -- and their capabilities. We use preventive countermeasures like encryption and access control to avoid different threats. If we can avoid the threats, we've won.

If we can't, we've lost.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that the world doesn't work this way. I had my epiphany in April 1999: that security was about risk management, that detection and response were just as important as prevention, and that reducing the window of exposure for an enterprise is security's real purpose. I was finally able to finish the book: offer solutions to the problems I posed, a way out of the darkness, hope for the future of computer security.

Secrets and Lies discusses computer security in this context, in words that a business audience will understand. It explains, in my typical style, how different security technologies work and how they fail. It discusses the process of security: what the threats are, who the attackers are, and how to live in their world.

It'll change the way you think about computer security. I'm very proud of it... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

Welcome to the It′s digital: Information is more readily accessible than ever. It′s inescapably connected: businesses are increasingly ––if not totally––dependent on digital communications. But our passion for technology has a price: increased exposure to security threats. Companies around the world need to understand the risks associated with doing business electronically. The answer starts here. Information security expert Bruce Schneier explains what everyone in business needs to know about security in order to survive and be competitive. Pragmatic, interesting, and humorous, Schneier exposes the digital world and the realities of our networked society. He examines the entire system, from the reasons for technical insecurities to the minds behind malicious attacks. You′ll be guided through the security war zone, and learn how to understand and arm yourself against the threats of our connected world. There are no quick fixes for digital security. And with the number of security vulnerabilities, breaches, and digital disasters increasing over time, it′s vital that you learn how to manage the vulnerabilities and protect your data in this networked world. You need to understand who the attackers are, what they want, and how to deal with the threats they represent. In Secrets and Lies, you′ll learn about security technologies and product capabilities, as well as their limitations. And you′ll find out how to respond given the landscape of your system and the limitations of your business. With its accessible style, this practical guide covers: ∗ The digital threats and attacks that you must understand ∗ The security products and processes currently available ∗ The limitations of technology ∗ The steps involved in product testing to discover security flaws ∗ The technologies to watch for over the next couple of years ∗ Risk assessment in your company ∗ The implementation of security policies and countermeasures Secrets and Lies offers the expert guidance you′ll need to make the right choices about securing your digital self. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

"A primer in practical computer security aimed at those shopping, communicating, or doing business online – almost everyone, in other words." –The Economist Viruses. Identity theft. Corporate espionage. National secrets compromised. Can anyone promise security in our digital world? The man who introduced cryptography to the boardroom says no. But in this fascinating read, he shows us how to come closer by developing security measures in terms of context, tools, and strategy. Security is a process, not a product – one that system administrators and corporate executives alike must understand to survive. "This book is of value to anyone whose business depends on safe use of e–mail, the Web, or other networked communications. If that’s not yet everybody, it soon will be." –Stephen H. Wildstrom, BusinessWeek "It’s not often that a truly outstanding book is written for both technical users and management. Fortunately, Secrets and Lies pulls off this feat rather well." –Dustin Puryear, "Schneier . . . peppers the book with lively anecdotes and aphorisms, making it unusually accessible." –Los Angeles Times

About the Author

Bruce Schneier is the founder and CTO of Counterpane Internet Security, Inc., the recognized leader in network security services. The bestselling author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World and Applied Cryptography, he is an internationally respected security expert.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


I have written this book partly to correct a mistake.

Seven years ago I wrote another book: Applied Cryptography. In it I described a mathematical utopia: algorithms that would keep your deepest secrets safe for millennia, protocols that could perform the most fantastical electronic interactions-unregulated gambling, undetectable authentication, anonymous cash--safely and securely. In my vision cryptography was the great technological equalizer; anyone with a cheap (and getting cheaper every year) computer could have the same security as the largest government. In the second edition of the same book, written two years later, I went so far as to write: "It is insufficient to protect ourselves with laws; we need to protect ourselves with mathematics."

It's just not true. Cryptography can't do any of that.

It's not that cryptography has gotten weaker since I994, or that the things I described in that book are no longer true; it's that cryptography doesn't exist in a vacuum.

Cryptography is a branch of mathematics. And like all mathematics, it involves numbers, equations, and logic. Security, palpable security that you or I might find useful in our lives, involves people: things people know, relationships between people, people and how they relate to machines. Digital security involves computers: complex, unstable, buggy computers.

Mathematics is perfect; reality is subjective. Mathematics is defined; computers are ornery. Mathematics is logical; people are erratic, capricious, and barely comprehensible.

The error of Applied Cryptography is that I didn't talk at all about the context. I talked about cryptography as if it were The Answer TM. I was pretty naive.

The result wasn't pretty. Readers believed that cryptography was a kind of magic security dust that they could sprinkle over their software and make it secure. That they could invoke magic spells like "128-bit key" and "public-key infrastructure." A colleague once told me that the world was full of bad security systems designed by people who read Applied Cryptography.

Since writing the book, I have made a living as a cryptography consultant: designing and analysing security systems. To my initial surprise, I found that the weak points had nothing to do with the mathematics. They were in the hardware, the software, the networks, and the people. Beautiful pieces of mathematics were made irrelevant through bad programming, a lousy operating system, or someone's bad password choice. I learned to look beyond the cryptography, at the entire system, to find weaknesses. I started repeating a couple of sentiments you'll find throughout this book: "Security is a chain; it's only as secure as the weakest link." "Security is a process, not a product."

Any real-world system is a complicated series of interconnections. Security must permeate the system: its components and connections. And in this book I argue that modern systems have so many components and connections--some of them not even known by the systems' designers, implementers, or users-that insecurities always remain. No system is perfect; no technology is The Answer TM.

This is obvious to anyone involved in real-world security. In the real world, security involves processes. It involves preventative technologies, but also detection and reaction processes, and an entire forensics system to hunt down and prosecute the guilty. Security is not a product; it itself is a process. And if we're ever going to make our digital systems secure, we're going to have to start building processes. A few years ago I heard a quotation, and I am going to modify it here: If you think technology can solve your security problems, then you don't understand the problems and you don't understand the technology. This book is about those security problems, the limitations of technology, and the solutions.


Read this book in order, from beginning to end.

No, really. Many technical books are meant to skim, bounce around in, and use as a reference. This book isn't. This book has a plot; it tells a story. And like any good story, and you won't buy the ending if you haven't come along on the journey.

Actually, I want you to read the book through once, and then read it through a second time. This book argues that in order to understand the security of a system, you need to look at the entire system - and not at any particular technologies. Security itself is an interconnected system, and it helps to have cursory knowledge of everything before learning more about anything. But two readings is probably to much to ask; forget I mentioned it.

This book has three parts. Part 1 is "The Landscape," and gives context to the rest of the book: who the attackers are, what they want, and what we need to deal with the threats. Part 2 is "Technologies," basically a bunch of chapters describing different security technologies and their limitations. Part 3 is "Strategies": Given the requirements of the landscape and the limitations of the technologies, what do we do now? I think digital security is about the coolest thing you can work on today, and this book reflects that feeling. It's serious, but fun, too. Enjoy the read. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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