Although the first draft of this article appeared in 2003, recent IT employment surveys, certification studies, and polls of IT professionals and system and network security continue to represent core technical competencies worthy of cultivation. To help you explore this fascinating field and appreciate its breadth and depth, Ed Tittel has put together a pair of articles that together cover information security (or InfoSec, as it's sometimes called) books as completely as possible. All the books in here are worth owning—though you may not need to acquire all books on identical or related topics from these lists. Together this compilation documents the best-loved and respected titles in the field. This is the first of two parts, so be sure to check out its successor story as well.
In this article, I present the first installment of a two-part story on computer security books, in which I recommend titles that are bound to be noteworthy for those with an interest in this field. In my particular case, I'm still updating materials relevant to the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) exam.
This list and its companion emerged from the following research:
- I draw upon my own reading in this field since the early 1990s. Currently, my bookcases already include five shelves of security books.
- I consulted every expert security reading list I could find, including recommended reading for a broad range of security certifications, where available.
- I asked my friends and colleagues who work in this field to provide feedback on my initial findings and to suggest additional entries.
Expert and ordinary reader reviews—and in about half the items mentioned here, my own personal experience—show me that there is an amazing number of truly outstanding books in this field. If you find yourself reading something you don't like or can't understand in this arena, don't be afraid to investigate alternatives. There are plenty of them!
To avoid the potential unpleasantness involved in ranking these titles, I present them in alphabetical order indexed by the primary author's last name.
Adams, Carlisle and Steve Lloyd: Understanding PKI: Concepts, Standards, and Deployment Considerations, 2e, Addison-Wesley, 2002, ISBN-13: 978-0672323915.
This book covers the basic principles needed to understand, design, deploy, and manage safe and secure PKI installations and information related to the issuance, use, and management of digital certificates. It provides special emphasis on certificates and certification, operational considerations related to deployment and use of PKI, and relevant standards and interoperability issues. It’s a great overall introduction to the topic of PKI that's not too deeply technical.
Allen, Julia H.: The CERT Guide to System and Network Security Practices, Addison-Wesley, 2001, ISBN-13: 978-0201737233.
Here, the author distills numerous best practices and recommendations from the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) and its vast body of experience with computer security incidents, exploits, and attacks. Advice is couched generically rather than in terms of particular platforms or applications, so some translation will be necessary to implement that advice. Topics covered include hardening systems and networks, detecting and handling break-ins or other types of attack, and designing effective security policies.
Bishop, Matt: Computer Security: Art and Science, Addison-Wesley, 2003, ISBN-13: 978-0201440997.
Professor Matt Bishop packs his security expertise into this well-written, comprehensive computer security tome. This book has been successfully tested at advanced undergraduate and introductory graduate levels, and can be a useful addition to security certification courses. Topics covered include the theoretical and practical aspects of security policies, models, cryptography and key management, authentication, biometrics, access control, information flow and analysis, and assurance and trust.
Bosworth, Seymour, M.E. Kabay, Eric Whyne: Computer Security Handbook, 5e, Wiley, February, 2009, ISBN-13: 978-0471716525.
An expensive but extremely popular graduate level and certification preparation textbook, this is one of the best general all-around references on information security topics available anywhere. It also includes a CD with tools for checklists, audits, and compliance checks.
Bott, Ed, Carl Siechert, and Craig Stinson: Windows Vista Inside Out, MS Press, January, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-073622708.
Though this book is a general, across-the-board Vista tips-and-tricks tome, its coverage and intense focus on security topics makes it all the more valuable. It’s an excellent book for those seeking to make the most of Vista computing, including on the information security front.
Bragg, Roberta: Hardening Windows Systems, McGraw-Hill/Osborne Media, May, 2004, ISBN-13: 978-0072253542.
Bragg is simply one of the very best writers and teachers on Windows security topics, and this book does an excellent job of explaining and exploring system lockdown and hardening techniques for Windows. Although it predates Vista, much of this book’s advice still pertains to that system anyway.
Calder, Alan and Steve Watkins: IT Governance: A Manager’s Guide to Data Security and ISO 27001/ISO 27002, Kogan Page, June, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-0749452711.
This book examines best-practices standards and procedures for data security and protection in light of Sarbanes-Oxley (US) and the Turnbull Report and the Combined Code (UK) requirements. It’s chock full of information and advice to help managers and IT professionals ensure that IT security strategies are coordinated, compliant, comprehensive, and cost-appropriate.
Caloyannides, Michael A.: Privacy Protection and Computer Forensics, 2e, Artech House, October, 2004, ISBN-13: 978-1580538305.
This technical yet readable title that addresses privacy rights for individuals who seek to protect personal or confidential information from unauthorized access. It includes coverage of computer forensic tools and techniques, as well as methods individuals might use to combat them. It also covers use of disk-wiping software, methods to achieve anonymity online, techniques for managing security, and confidentiality, encryption, wireless security, and legal issues.
Cheswick, William R, Steven M. Bellovin, and Aviel D. Rubin: Firewalls and Internet Security, 2e, Addison-Wesley, 2003, ISBN-13: 978-0201634662.
A very welcome second edition of a great first edition book, this tome includes great coverage of IP security topics and its excellent analysis of a computer attack and its handling. The firewall coverage is superb, but the authors' coverage of Internet security topics and techniques is also timely, interesting, and informative. It’s an outstanding update to an already terrific book.
Cole, Eric: Hackers Beware: The Ultimate Guide to Network Security, New Riders, 2001, ISBN-13: 978-0735710090.
A star instructor at the SysAdmin, Audit, Network, Security (SANS) Institute, Cole distills his extensive knowledge and experience in this book. This book provides ample coverage of both offensive and defensive tools in the computer security arsenal, as well as a great overview of attack strategies, best security practices, security concepts, and terminology. Thus, the book combines a useful examination of common vulnerabilities and attacks, with explanations that explain how those vulnerabilities may be exploited and attacks successfully waged. To the benefit of administrators and would-be security professionals, it also covers how to detect and respond to attacks when necessary, and to avoid or deflect them where possible.
Cooper, Mark et al.: Intrusion Signatures and Analysis, New Riders, 2001, ISBN-13: 978-0735710635.
In this book, numerous network and system attacks are documented and described, along with methods that administrators can use to recognize ("identify a signature," as it were) and deal with such attacks. Aimed in part at helping individuals seeking the GIAC Certified Intrusion Analyst (GCIA) certification, the book explores a large catalog of attacks, documents the tools intruders use to mount them, and explains how to handle or prevent them. By working from protocol traces, or intrusion detection or firewall logs, the book also teaches skills for recognizing, analyzing, and responding to attacks.
Crothers, Tim: Implementing Intrusion Detection Systems : A Hands-On Guide for Securing the Network, Wiley, 2002, ISBN-13: 978-0764549496.
Though many books talk about intrusion detection systems, this one stands out for several reasons. First, it's short, concise, and direct: a great introduction to the topic. Second, it's leavened with good advice and best practices on deploying and using IDS technology, and includes great diagrams and explanations. It's probably not the only book you'll want on this topic, but it's a great place to start digging in.
Garfinkel, Simson, Alan Schwartz, and Gene Spafford: Practical UNIX and Internet Security, 3e, O'Reilly & Associates, 2003, ISBN-13: 978-0596003234.
Several editions later, this book remains one of the best general security administration books around. It starts with the fundamentals of security and UNIX, works its way through security administration topics and techniques clearly and systematically, and includes lots of great supplementary information that's still quite useful today. While it's focused on a particular operating system and its inner workings, this book will be useful even for those who may not rub shoulders with UNIX every day.
Garfinkel, Simson: Web Security, Privacy, and Commerce, 2e, O'Reilly & Associates, 2002, ISBN-13: 978-0596000455.
This book tackles the real root causes behind well-publicized attacks and exploits on websites and servers right from the front lines. Explains the sources of risk, and how those risks can be managed, mitigated, or sidestepped. Topics covered include user safety, digital certificates, cryptography, webserver security and security protocols, and e-commerce topics and technologies. It’s a great title for those interested in Web security matters.
Gollman, Dieter: Computer Security, 2e, John Wiley & Sons, December, 2006, ISBN-13: 978-0470862933.
This book surveys computer security topics and issues from a broad perspective starting with the notion of security models. It also covers what's involved in security operating and database systems, as well as networks. This book is widely adopted as an upper-division undergraduate or introductory graduate level textbook in computer science curricula, and also includes a comprehensive bibliography.
Gregg, Michael: Build Your Own Security Lab: A Field Guide for Network Testing, Wiley, April, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-0470179864.
This book contains a complete set of guidelines for acquiring, assembling, installing, and operating an information security laboratory. It gives excellent coverage of attack tools and techniques, and how to counter them on Windows systems and networks.
Grimes, Roger A., and Jesper M. Johansson: Windows Vista Security: Securing Vista Against Malicious Attacks, Wiley, July, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-0470101551.
Grimes and Johansson give an insider’s view of Windows Vista security tools and techniques, with an eye toward explaining how systems get exploited as well as exploring best security practices and principles. It’s an excellent read, and a good source of useful technical information.
Harris, Shon: CISSP All-in-One Exam Guide, 4e, Osborne McGraw-Hill, November, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-0071497879.
There are numerous other titles about the CISSP exam available, but this is the only one to get high ratings from both security professionals and from ordinary book buyers. It covers the 10 domains in the Common Body of Knowledge (CBK) that is the focus of the CISSP exam, but also includes lots of examples, case studies, and scenarios. Where other books summarize, digest, and condense the information almost into almost unrecognizable forms, this book is well written, explains most key topics quite well, and lays out the landscape that the CISSP covers very well. Those with InfoSec training or backgrounds may be able to use this as their only study resource, but those who lack such background will want to read more widely. A value-add to this book are the accompanying simulated practice exams and video training on the CD.
Kahn, David: The Codebreakers: The Comprehensive History of Secret Communication from Ancient Times to the Internet, Scribner, 1996, ISBN-13: 978-0684831305.
If you're looking for a single, comprehensive, and exhaustive treatment of cryptography, this is the book for you. Kahn starts with simple substitution ciphers that go all the way back to the invention of writing in the Tigris/Euphrates cultures to techniques used in the present day. Be warned that this book is rather more historical and descriptive in its coverage than it is a how-to book, but it is absolutely the right place to start for those who are interested in this topic and who want to get the best possible background before diving into more technical detail.
Komar, Brian: Windows Server 2008 PKI and Certificate Security, MS Press, April, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-0735625167.
A wealth of information and practical advice on using Windows Server 2008 to design and deploy certificate based security solutions, including coverage of wireless networks, smart card authentication, VPNs, secure e-mail, Web SSL, EFS, and code-signing applications.
Kruse, Warren G. and Jay Heiser: Computer Forensics: Incident Response Essentials, Addison-Wesley, 2001, ISBN-13: 978-0201707199.
A current computer security buzzword is "incident response" or "incident handling," meaning the activities involved in detecting and responding to attacks or security breaches. This book describes a systematic approach to implementing incident responses, and focuses on intruder detection, analysis of compromises or damages, and identification of possible culprits involved. The emphasis is as much on preparing the "paper trail" necessary for successful prosecution of malefactors as it is in exploring the principles involved in formulating incident response teams, strategies, security enhancements, and so forth. Coverage extends to analysis of attack tools and strategies, as well as monitoring and detecting tools and techniques. It’s an interesting read, and a very useful book.
McClure, Stuart, Joel Scambray, and George Kurtz: Hacking Exposed: Network Security Secrets & Solutions, 6e, Osborne McGraw-Hill, January, 2009, ISBN-13: 979-0071613743.
One of the best-selling computer security books of all time, this latest edition updates the authors’ catalog of hacker tools, attacks, and techniques with a keen eye on striking the right defensive posture. By operating system and type of attack, readers get a chance to learn about what tools are used for attacks, how they work, what they can reveal or allow, and how to defend systems and networks from their illicit use. The 6th edition includes only Windows Vista and Server 2008 security issues and answers. A companion CD-ROM includes tools, Web pointers, and other text supplements.
Melber, Derek: Auditing Security and Controls of Windows Active Directory Domains, Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) Research Foundation, May, 2005, ISBN-13: 978-0894135637.
This is one of the few really detailed and useful references that explains how the Windows Active Directory environment maps to security and controls auditing requirements, both for the IIA in particular, and for more general auditing principles and practices. Melber is an accomplished and talented Windows internals expert and shows off his skills to good effect in this short but useful book. See also his excellent Web site WindowSecurity.com.
Moskowitz, Jeremy: Group Policy: Fundamentals, Security, and Troubleshooting, Sybex, May, 2008, ISBN-13: 978-0470275894.
In no other way does Windows offer as close to a comprehensive and remotely manageable toolset for Windows security and behavior as through Group Policy objects and settings. Moskowitz provides a wealth of useful information on using Group Policy to establish, manage, and maintain security on Windows networks. It’s an invaluable reference and learning tool.
Northcutt, Stephen and Judy Novak: Network Intrusion Detection, 3e, New Riders, September, 2002, ISBN-13: 978-0735712652.
This short but information-packed book works its way through numerous real, documented system attacks to teach about tools, techniques, and practices that will aid in the recognition and handling of so-called "security incidents." The authors make extensive use of protocol traces and logs to explain what kind of attack took place, how it worked, and how to detect and deflect or foil such attacks. Those who work through this book's recommendations should be able to foil the attacks it documents, as they learn how to recognize, document, and respond to potential future attacks. It’s one of the best books around for those who must configure router filters and responses, monitor networks for signs of potential attack, or assess possible countermeasures for deployment and use.
Northcutt, Stephen et al.: Inside Network Perimeter Security, 2e, New Riders, March, 2005, ISBN-13: 978-0672327377.
Readers will enjoy the broad yet deep coverage this book offers regarding all aspects of network perimeter protection. The authors skillfully teach the reader how to "think" about security issues—threats, hack attacks, exploits, trends, and so on—rather than handhold the reader with step-by-step solutions to specific problems. This approach helps network security professionals learn how to use a variety of tools, analyze the results, and make effective decisions. Topics covered include designing and monitoring network perimeters for maximum security, firewalls, packet filtering, access lists, and expanding or improving the security of existing networks. Because the book was developed jointly with SANS Institute staff, it can be used as a study aid for individuals preparing for GIAC Certified Firewall Analyst (GCFW) certification.
Peltier, Thomas R., Information Security Risk Analysis, 2e, April, 2005, Auerbach, ISBN-13: 978-0849333460.
The techniques introduced in this book permit its readers to recognize and put price tags on potential threats to an organization's computer systems, be they malicious or accidental in nature. It covers well-known techniques such as FRAP (facilitated risk analysis process) and PARA (practical application of risk analysis), as it takes a step-by-step approach to identify, assess, and handle potential sources of risk.
Rada, Roy: HIPAA @ IT Essentials, 2003 Edition: Health Information Transactions, Privacy, and Security, Hypemedia Solutions, October 2002, ISBN-13: 978-1901857191.
HIPAA stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, a maze of U.S. government regulations that surround the electronic packaging, storage, use, and exchange of medical records. Because HIPAA has a surprising reach into the private sector (it affects any business that handles medical records in any way), this topic receives coverage on most security certification exams and is of concern to IT professionals in general. This book is designed as a reference for such professionals and succeeds admirably in its purpose; basically, it condenses and explains what it takes the U.S. government thousands of pages to document in less than 300 pages.
Raina, Kapil: PKI Security Solutions for the Enterprise: Solving HIPAA, E-Paper Act, and Other Compliance Issues, Wiley, April, 2003, ISBN-13: 978-0471314292.
This book is a relatively brief (336 pages) but cogent introduction to the public key infrastructure standards, along with best practices for their use and application.
Russell, Deborah and G. T. Gangemi: Computer Security Basics, O'Reilly & Associates, 1991. ISBN: 0937175714.
In a clear sign that this book lives up to its title, it's still around (and in print) nearly 20 years after its initial release. It’s an excellent primer on basic security concepts, terminology, and tools, the book also covers key elements of the U.S. government's security requirements and regulations as well. Although dated, it also provides useful coverage of security devices, as well as communications and network security topics. Many experts recommend this title as an ideal "my first computer security book."
Schneier, Bruce: Applied Cryptography, John Wiley & Sons, 1995, ISBN-13: 978-0471117094.
Although many good books on cryptography are available (others appear in this list), none of the others approaches this one for readability and insight into the subject matter. This book covers the entire topic as completely as possible in a single volume, and includes working code examples for most encryption algorithms and techniques (which makes an interesting alternative to more common mathematical formulae and proofs so common to this subject). Even so, the book is informative, useful, and interesting even for those who do not read the code.
Schneier, Bruce: Schneier on Security, Wiley, September 2008, ISBN-13: 9798-0470495356.
Now touted as the “world’s most famous security expert,” Schneier once again presents a collection of his recent security musings and essays in book form. Here, he takes on passports, voting machines, airplanes and airport security, ID cards, Internet banking, and a whole lot more, for a thought-provoking and interesting take on topical security subjects.
Schneier, Bruce: Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World, John Wiley & Sons, 2004, ISBN-13: 978-0471453802.
A well-known and respected figure in the field of computer and network security, Schneier brings his unique perspective to the broad topic of digital security matters in this book. He manages to be informative and interesting, often funny, on topics normally known for their soporific value. He also presents an interesting philosophy on "security as a perspective or a state of mind" rather than as a recipe for locking intruders, malefactors, or others out of systems and networks. Along the way, he also presents a useful exposition of the tools, techniques, and mind games hackers use to penetrate systems and networks around the world. One of the best possible choices on this list for "my first computer security book"—except that other titles (even those on this list) will have a mighty tough act to follow!
The Honeynet Project: Know Your Enemy: Learning About Security Threats, 2e, Addison-Wesley, 2004, ISBN-13: 978-0321166463.
In computer security jargon, a honeypot is a system designed to lure and snare would-be intruders; by extension, a honeynet is a network designed to do the same thing. The original Honeynet Project involved two years of effort from security professionals who set up and monitored a set of production systems and networks designed to be compromised. The pedigree of the group involved is stellar, and so are their results in this second edition, which shares the results of their continuing and detailed observations of attacks and exploits, and their recommendations on how to deal with such phenomena.
Zwicky, Elizabeth D. et al.: Building Internet Firewalls, 2e, O'Reilly & Associates, 2000, ISBN-13: 978-1565928718.
A follow-up to one of the original "big books" of computer security, this second edition walks well in the footsteps of its predecessor. Widely acknowledged as "the" firewall book, it digs into the principles and practices that go into building and implementing Internet firewalls like no other resource I know of. It does not address capabilities or configurations for today's turnkey firewalls, but does do an excellent job of analyzing and describing security strategies and configuration, both good and bad. New, timely topics added include streaming media, ActiveX, Java, IPv6, and so on, but the book maintains a focus on securing Internet services and constructing secure firewalls.
Here are some additional interesting infosec bibliographies, if you'd like to see other takes on this subject matter (you'll find more in the second part of this story as well):
- Library Security Resources (based on the CISSP recommended reading list)
- To obtain a free CISSP study guide from (ISC)2, including the bibliography cited by question item writers, you can submit a request. The Official (ISC)2 Guide to the CISSP Exam is available at the (ISC)2 website or from your local bookstore or favorite online bookseller.
- An InfoWar bibliography includes lots of computer security coverage.
The Security section of the Informit bookstore has more than 100 security-related titles to choose from. If you use the Search utility in the books area at Amazon.com, in addition to producing hundreds of books in response to a title search on "computer security", it will also produce more than a dozen book lists on the topic as well. You can also find security-related titles at Barnes & Noble and Bookpool.
Please send me feedback on my selections, including your recommendations for possible additions or deletions. I can't say I'll act on all such input, but I will consider all of it carefully.
Read part 2 of this two-part series.
Editor's Note: Kim Lindros provided research and fact checking for this article.