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  • Donald E. Hester

Book Reviews Q1 2018

My recent reading list has included a number of good titles that may in some way relate to cybersecurity. I freely admit that I am in the camp that believes that cross-discipline studies can help to drive innovation in any field of study even cybersecurity.

Book Cover Algorithms to Live By

Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions,” by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths publish in 2017, is the first of this list. I will freely admit that this book is a bit dry and some of the topics, like when is the optimal time to select a significant other, which is a bit too ridged for real life. I don’t think love can be distilled to simple mathematical formulas. However, the book had some interesting information about optimization that could be valuable for revamping organizational effectiveness. Another point I found interesting, is the statistics of when to stop. When do you stop looking for a parking space? Now that is interesting but what was more interesting is that statistically, with each additional crime committed by a criminal, the likelihood of being caught increases. As I recall from one of my criminology classes, criminals really commit one crime and retire. Criminals seem not to be able to curb their behavior. Typically, they will continue committing crimes. Little do they know that each crime leads to an increased probability of being caught. Their inability to control their behavior is leading them down a road of eventual reckoning.

In the last few months, I have come across a number of news stories on cybercriminals being caught that seem to support this fact. One guy was caught after a 13-year streak of electronically spying on people. If he would have just stopped after a few incidents he would still be a free man. I find it somewhat comforting that they will not be able to avoid justice forever.

Book Cover the Art of Invisibility

The next book is, “The Art of Invisibility: The World's Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data,” by Kevin Mitnick published in 2017. Ok I will start by saying that everything he talks about is true. Yes, people can and do spy on you. When you read the book, you will be shocked at how companies, governments, employees, criminals, and regular people can get information on you and how they can corollate the information from different sources to know more about your private life then you are aware of. The sky is falling! Well yes, it is, but is it really that bad? Probably not for most people. The likelihood of the average citizen being targeted or being adversely impacted are less likely. Yes, I am saying we are that boring. However, if you are a high-profile celebrity or politician or just someone with access to data that someone really wants, you are more likely to be a target of interest.

Am I saying it is fear mongering? No, not at all. I just don’t think he gave a good perspective that the likelihood is different for different people and that most people don’t need to worry about the supermarket watching everything you do while you are in the store. They just do that to determine what displays attract you and entice you to purchase specific products. I mean Amazon often makes suggestions for things that I never knew I wanted. Maybe that is a problem. Maybe I am just happier to find something new for my Jeep!

Aside from that, the book reads like a manual for criminals. Which it could be disheartening to know that criminals will use this information to evade law enforcement. Good thing their behavior and statistics are on the side of law enforcement. I guess Algorithms to Live By, was a good book to read first.

Book Cover the Immortal Irishman

The next book was a departure from the previous genre. I like to mix in a few other topics for fun, I find that if I read too many books on a specific topic I get bored and have a hard time finishing them. So I picked up a biography, a genre I don’t frequent. The book was “The Immortal Irishman: The Irish Revolutionary Who Became an American Hero,” by Timothy Egan, published in 2016. The books caught my eye because I know I have Irish blood and wanted to explore that part of my heritage. Turns out it is a great story about an idealist, Thomas Francis Meagher, and his fight to not pay lip service to the lofty ideals of liberty. He strived to live up to those ideals and in doing so he ran afoul of many powerful men and institutions with a vested interest in the status quo. He faced death, execution, exile, and prison for holding true to the ideals that no one should be subservient to another. In a way, this book introduced me to someone I would consider a hero, at least as a man who was willing to sacrifice everything for what is right and just.

I also found the book gave me a better appreciation of the geopolitical landscape of the 19th century and some of the old grudges and prejudices continued on into the 20th century. I feel like I gain a deeper perspective on the age-old issues between Ireland and the British Empire, the long fight between Catholics and Protestants, and the fights between Democrats and Rebulicans. I realize this is not a complete picture of those struggles but if you have a passing familiarity with them you will find this may add a bit of color to the picture.

The book is hard to follow at times. As it seems to bounce around the timeline and you forget for a moment when the events explained are happening. That aside, it is worth the read. I am not sure exactly how it might relate to cybersecurity other than it is a story about standing up for what is right and fighting the bad guys. In that way, it can be a source of encouragement for the good guys.

Anything else?

I have to also add that I have read a few other books since the beginning of the year that I have no way of relating them to cybersecurity but I thought I might mention them at any rate. After all, I wouldn't want to have a list of books that I read recently not be complete and accurate!

  • I reread “Ready Player One,” by Ernest Cline in anticipation of the upcoming movie. I highly recommend it.

  • I read “Coreyography,” by Corey Feldman. A very interesting and unvarnished look at the underbelly of Hollywood. I will say one thing about the book. I think Feldman is brave and doing the right thing by exposing predators.

  • I often switch up my genre to include self-help or books on psychology. A friend had recommended “No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending,” by Esther Fleece. I have always had a hard time talking to people who have had the lose of a loved one. I never know what to say and I can’t give them empty clichés. It seems empty to say things like, “They are in a better place.” I found the book was very helpful.

What is next on my list?

I have a few picks that are directly related to cybersecurity.

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