by Ed Tittel
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, although 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 updating materials relevant to the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) exam and digging my way through the most useful elements of a very large body of work on this subject matter. And of course, I also like to make sure that current "hot" titles show up in this list as well.
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[md]and just under half the items mentioned here, my own personal experience[md]show me that there are amazing numbers 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, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-0321743091.
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, and 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 7 Inside Out, MS Press, September 2009, ISBN-13: 978-0735626652.
Though this book is a general, across-the-board Windows 7 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 Windows 7 computing, including on the information security front.
Bradley, Tony: Essential Computer Security: Everyone's Guide to Email, Internet, and Wireless Security, Syngress, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-1597491143.
Tony Bradley is About.com's expert on information security (which they call Internet Network Security), and has been writing broadly in this field for more than a decade. This book aims at SOHO and SMB users, and provides excellent coverage for most essential security topics without digging overly deeply into technical details and underpinnings. A great book to start into the InfoSec field; or to recommend to friends, co-workers, or family members who just want to understand and apply fundamental principles for safe computing.
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 Windows 7 and even Vista, much of this book's advice is still pertinent.
Cache, Johnny, Joshua Wright, and Vincent Liu: Hacking Exposed Wireless, 2e, McGraw-Hill, July 2010, ISBN-13: 978-0071666619.
This latest edition focuses on wireless network security vulnerabilities and the tools and techniques that attackers use to hack into Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and DECT connections. The authors cover many attacker tools in depth, including Aircrack-ng, coWPAtty, FreeRADIUS-WPE, IPPON, KillerBee, and Pyrit. In addition to learning how attackers can infiltrate your computers and networks, you'll pick up tips to lock down connections and mop up after a successful attack (if you're caught with your defenses down).
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 (U.S.) and the Turnbull Report and the Combined Code (UK) requirements. It is 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 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.
Carvey, Harlan (author) and Dave Kleiman (technical editor): Windows Forensic Analysis Including DVD Toolkit, Syngress, May 2007, ISBN-13: 978-159749156.
An in-depth excursion into computer forensics on Windows systems that includes a reasonably comprehensive forensics toolkit on DVD as part of the package. It's not unreasonable to view the book as the background and instructions for use of the on-DVD toolkit, and the toolkit itself as the means whereby readers can learn about and gain experience in performing all kinds of computer forensics tasks. An excellent addition to any InfoSec bookshelf, thanks to its in-depth and competent analyses and explanations.
Cheswick, William R, Steven M. Bellovin, and Aviel D. Rubin: Firewalls and Internet Security: Repelling the Wily Hacker, 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 is an outstanding update to an already terrific book.
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 catalogue of attacks, documents the tools that 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.
Dhanjani, Nitesh, Billy Rios, and Brett Hardin: Hacking: The Next Generation (Animal Guide), O'Reilly, September 2009, ISBN-13: 978-0596154578.
Coming in at a trim 309 pages, this O'Reilly guide is chockfull of perspectives from the attacker's point of view. The authors provide concise, practical information on attack vectors (several even seasoned techies might not have considered) focused not only on computers and networks but also on mobile devices and cloud services. Written in plain English and liberally sprinkled with interesting, real-world examples, Hacking: The Next Generation is a good read and excellent addition to your library.
Ferguson, Niels, Bruce Schneier, and Tadayoshi Kohno: Cryptography Engineering: Design Principles and Practical Applications, Wiley, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-0470474242.
An outstanding update to Schneier's previous second edition of Applied Cryptography, this book includes much of the same information and coverage, but aims more at laying out the principles of strong, secure cryptographic design and implementation. Among other things, it's often used as a graduate textbook for students in computer science or engineering, to help them understand issues involved in using and implementing cryptography within various software systems. It's probably the best and most up-to-date introduction to cryptography within the "let's use cryptography to do something" context around.
Garfinkel, Simson, Alan Schwartz, and Gene Spafford: Practical UNIX and Internet Security, 3e, O'Reilly, 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, 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, web server 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.
Harris, Shon: CISSP All-in-One Exam Guide, 5e, Osborne McGraw-Hill, January 2010, ISBN-13: 978-0071602174.
Numerous other titles cover the CISSP exam (including a book of my own), but this is the only one that earns high ratings from both security professionals and ordinary book buyers. It covers all 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 into almost unrecognizable forms, this book is well written, explains most key topics, and explores the landscape that the CISSP covers very well. Those with InfoSec training or backgrounds may be able to use this as their only study tool, but those who lack such background must read more widely. Value-adds to this book include the accompanying simulated practice exams and video training on the CD.
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.
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, Microsoft 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 perennial 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 analyses of attack tools and strategies, as well as monitoring and detecting tools and techniques. It's an interesting read, and a very useful book.
Malin, Cameron H., Eoghan Casey, and James M. Aquilina: Malware Forensics: Investigating and Analyzing Malicious Code, Syngress, June 2008, ISBN-13: 978-1597492683.
Written by a team of practicing and heavily experienced professionals in the malware forensics field (Malin is with the FBI, Casey is a full-time forensics writer and teacher, and Aquilina is a senior attorney who investigates and litigates computer forensics related cases), this book is a tour-de-force exploration into the hows, whys, and wherefores of malware forensics analysis. The authors are every bit as strong on technical forensics as they are on malware, and that double coverage plays well throughout this entire book. Those looking for a learning tool and a practical handbook could do a lot worse than buying this 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' catalogue of hacker tools, attacks, and techniques with a keen eye on taking the right defensive posture. By operating system and type of attack, readers 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 sixth 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 explain how the Windows Active Directory environment maps to security and controls auditing requirements, 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.)
Mitnick, Kevin D. and William L. Simon: The Art of Intrusion: The Real Stories Behind the Exploits of Hackers, Intruders and Deceivers, Wiley, December 2005, ISBN-13: 978-0471782667.
As an uberhacker himself, Mitnick is well-placed to draw on his own knowledge and experience in reporting on hack attacks and exploits. Bill Simon is an award-winning and highly accomplished writer who also collaborated with Mitnick on a previous book, The Art of Deception, wherein he recounts his own exploits. This time, rather than being fictionalized, this book reports on and analyzes attacks and exploits lifted from the news pages. Well worth reading for anyone interested in incident response, and in understanding the mentality and mindset of those who might attack or attempt to penetrate system security.
Moeller, Robert: IT Audit, Control, and Security, Wiley, November 2010, ISBN-13: 978-0471406761.
Just coming off the presses as this article was updated, this book covers auditing concepts, controls, and regulations, and then dives into step-by-step instructions on auditing processes. From CobiT and COSO to ITIL to Val IT, consider this a good general reference as well as a practical guide.
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.
Pfleeger, Charles P. and Shari Lawrence Pfleeger: Security in Computing, 4th Edition, Prentice Hall, October 2006, ISBN-13: 978-0132390774.
Often selected as an upper-division undergraduate or graduate textbook but useful to the practitioner, Security in Computing provides general-purpose coverage of the computer security landscape. The authors focus more on the "why" and "how" of security topics rather than the "how to."
Peltier, Thomas R.: Information Security Risk Analysis, 3e, March 2010, Auerbach, ISBN-13: 978-1439839560.
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 the well-known FRAAP (facilitated risk analysis and assessment process) as it takes a step-by-step approach to identifying, assessing, and handling potential sources of risk.
Rada, Roy: HIPAA @ IT Essentials, 2003 Edition: Health Information Transactions, Privacy, and Security, Hypermedia 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 fewer 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, 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. This book 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, Wiley, 1996, 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, Wiley, 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!
Solomon, Michael G., K. Rudolph, Diane Barrett, and Neil Broom: Computer Forensics JumpStart, 2e, Sybex, January 2011, ISBN-13: 9780470931660.
The upcoming revision to this popular introductory book on Computer Forensics might have been written with CISSP exam preparation in mind. It covers all the basic principles, practices, and procedures related to this field, and provides a nice overview of the items in a professional's forensics toolkit as well.
Whitman, Michael E., Herbert J. Mattord, Richard Austin, and Greg Holden: Guide to Firewalls and Network Security, Course Technology, June 2008, ISBN-13: 978-1435420168.
This second-edition textbook provides a good foundation for people new to network security and firewalls. You're first introduced to InfoSec and network security concepts, and then dive into firewall planning, policies, implementation, configuration, and filtering. The authors include detailed chapters on encryption, authentication, VPNs, and intrusion detection, and then wind down with a look at digital forensics.
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):
- http://www.lib.iup.edu/comscisec/CISSPBooks.htm: Library Security Resources (based on the CISSP recommended reading list).
- https://http://www.isc2.org/cib/default.aspx: To obtain the free CISSP Candidate Information Bulletin from (ISC)2, including the bibliography cited by question item writers, you can submit a request here.
- http://www.isc2.org/official-isc2-textbooks.aspx: 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.
- http://www.futurewar.net/iw4.html: An InfoWar bibliography that 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 (http://www.amazon.com/), in addition to producing hundreds of books in response to a title search on "computer security," it will produce more than a dozen book lists on the topic as well.
You can also find security-related titles at Barnes and Noble (http://www.barnesandnoble.com).
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.
And be sure to read part 2 of this two-part series.