|Computer Security for the Home and Small Office|
|author||Thomas C. Greene|
|summary||No secrets means that open source software, when it survives, tends toward robustness -- so it can help even if you run a closed-source operating system.|
The book covers popular OSs replacements for Windows applications and utilities; it explains vulnerabilities; it offers practical setup information for both Windows and Linux to harden a system and make it extremely difficult to attack.
The Preface describes the book in general terms. The Introduction explains firewalls and their limitations, and explains how to install Mozilla to limit email and http exploits and spam.
Chapter One debunks the malicious-hacker mythology and shows that most so-called hackers are only script kiddies who are easily thwarted with commonsense tactics.
Chapter Two explains malware, spyware, bad system configurations, and the scores of other routes to system exploitation and privacy invasion that firewalls and antivirus software don't address. It includes a step-by-step guide to simplifying and hardening a system. Most importantly, it offers a useful guide to turning off unnecessary services and networking components for both Windows and Linux, and setting sensible user permissions, and is liberally illustrated with screen shots.
Chapter Three offers a good breakdown of social engineering and phishing scams, and how to defend against them.
Chapter Four is about using common tools, like Ethereal, Netstat, PGP, etc. It explains how to monitor an Internet connection to spot software secretly reaching out or phoning home to remote servers; how to monitor your system for signs of malicious processes; and how to use PGP and GnuPG to encrypt sensitive files and Internet correspondence. This is one of the best introductions to using encryption available anywhere.
Chapter Five explains how to eliminate all traces of Web activity from your computer and defeat forensic recovery of stored data; how to surf the Web anonymously using an encrypted connection and defeat remote monitoring; how to set up and use SSH (SecureShell) to conceal both your identity, and the data content of your Internet sessions from all third parties, including your ISP. The many hiding places of sensitive or incriminating data are revealed for both Windows and Linux users.
Chapter Six explains the advantages and disadvantages of migrating from Windows to Linux; why Linux is easier to configure for security, and why it's better suited to less technically-inclined users; how to judge whether Linux is right for you, and the issues you should consider before migrating. The author is clearly biased towards Linux, but he understands that most users will stick with Windows. Hence the emphasis on tools that run on Windows.
Chapter Seven is a catchall essay explaining security from an anecdotal point of view. There were places where it got a bit tedious, but the idea is to look at security as a process or a frame of mind, not a specific series of computer settings. The material in this section is informative in only a general sense. The real configuration information comes in chapters Two, Four, and Five.
There are several indexes with useful information on firewalls, ports, Trojan activity, sources of information, and more. Most of this information is conveniently located and linked at the author's website, BasicSec.org
Overall, the book is exceptionally well written for a tech manual. The author is a good writer and his prose flows nicely. The book is highly readable, and even witty in parts. I found myself laughing aloud on several occasions. The author has the art of The Register's irreverent presentation. I enjoyed reading it. But it is not perfect, so I give it a 9 out of 10.
My biggest criticism is that the book shifts back and forth from practice to theory and back again. It's good that readers learn the reasons for the (very sensible) procedures and settings listed; but I felt that the book was organized wrong. This is a minor issue, and the book remains exceptionally useful; but instead of interlacing the various parts, theory and practice might better have been separated in two distinct sections. It's difficult simply to flip to a section of this book and learn what needs to be done: there is a lot of theoretical talk between each practical item. It's very good talk, and very instructive talk, all right, but I would have preferred that it be located in a particular place. I would rather not have to read the entire book through in order to tweak my system for good security. Unfortunately, the author has structured the book so that a read-through is necessary.
Overall, this book will tell professionals what they need to do, and novices everything that professionals ought to know, but probably don't. It's in plain English, so no one should worry that they can't grasp it. You can make your computer, or your network, very hard to attack, whether you use Windows or Linux. This book will show you how in excellent detail. You've got to read the whole thing, unfortunately -- but it will work nicely for you, casual user and sysadmin alike.
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