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The Computer Security Bookshelf, Part 2

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According to recent IT employment surveys, certification studies, and polls of IT professionals, system and network security are shaping up as "the" core competencies worthy of cultivation. To help you explore this fascinating field, and appreciate its breadth and depth, Ed Tittel has put together a collection of two articles that together cover information security (or infosec, as it’s sometimes called) 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 this field. This is the second of two parts, so be sure to check out its predecessor story as well.

Editor's Note: This article was fully revised and updated in December of 2004.

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In this story, I present the second 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 reading and studying to take 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.

This list and its companion (The Computer Security Bookshelf, Part 1) emerged from the following research:

  • I drew on my own reading in this field since the early 1990s. Currently, my bookcases already include 3-plus shelves of security books.
  • I consulted every expert security reading list I could find, including recommended reading for a broad range of security certifications, and various college-level computer security class syllabi, 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's an amazing number of truly outstanding books in this field. If you find yourself reading something you don't like or can't understand on this topic, don't be afraid to investigate alternatives. There are plenty to choose from!

To avoid any potential unpleasantness involved in ranking these titles, I present them in alphabetical order indexed by the primary author's last name.

Anderson, Ross J.: Security Engineering: A Guide to Building Dependable Distributed Systems, John Wiley & Sons, 2001, ISBN: 0471389226.
Ask security experts why security is a problem for systems and applications and they'll often tell you such problems result from failures to design for security from the get-go. This is one of a handful of books devoted to the topic of secure software design and implementation practices. Good for software developers, but also for security professionals who must be able to draw attention to the principles and practices this book espouses.

Barrett, Daniel J. and Richard Silverman: SSH, The Secure Shell: The Definitive Guide, O'Reilly & Associates, 2001, ISBN: 0596000111.
Explains what the protocols and services that support SSH do to improve (or add) security for TCP/IP applications and services, and how they mesh with overall security policy matters. Covers how to install, configure, and manage an SSH server, and how to work with SSH client software. Includes coverage of how SSH fits into PKI infrastructures, as well as how to detect and defeat various classes of possible attacks. Also covers Unix/Linux, Windows, and Macintosh SSH implementations. Up to O'Reilly's usual "Definitive Guide" standards, this is a very useful, informative book.

Bragg, Roberta, Mark Rhodes-Ousley, and Keith Strassberg: Network Security: The Complete Reference, McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2004, ISBN: 0072226978.
Explains network security concepts and techniques from beginning to end. This book covers security policy development, security architecture components (including chapters on authentication and authorization, Unix, Windows, NetWare, J2EE, VPNs, wireless, and more), and security infrastructure. This book, written by seasoned and well-known security authors, should be a valuable addition to your collection of security-related reference texts.

Bynum, Terrell Ward (Editor) and Simon Rogerson: Computer Ethics and Professional Responsibility: Introductory Text and Readings, Blackwell Publishers, 2003, ISBN: 1855548453.
This books teams up luminaries Bynum (Director of the Research Center on Computing & Society at Southern Connecticut State University) and Rogerson (Director of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility and Professor of Computer Ethics at De Montfort University). The result is a textbook that introduces computer and professional ethics in concisely and clearly. Teaching materials include student-tested review questions and real-world case studies.

Chirillo, John: Hack Attacks Revealed: A Complete Reference for UNIX, Windows, and Linux with Custom Security Toolkit, 2e, John Wiley & Sons, 2002, ISBN: 0471232823.
A full-time professional hacking consultant for major corporations and organizations, Chirillo shares his knowledge and experience on the topic in this second edition. Explains in detail how hackers exploit security vulnerabilities, holes, and weaknesses, and how to recognize potential threats to security. Also covers tools, techniques, and instructions on how to mount hacker attacks (and hence, to defeat them). This edition includes 40 percent new material, which focuses on the latest attacks on Unix, Windows, and Linux OSs, and comes packaged with a full version of TigerSuite Professional 3.5 (single license). An outstanding book of its kind (more or less equivalent to the Kurtz/McClure/Scambray Hacking Exposed).

Chirillo, John: Hack Attacks Denied: Complete Guide to Network Lockdown for UNIX, Windows, and Linux, 2e, John Wiley & Sons, 2002, ISBN: 0471232831.
Continues the work from Hack Attacks Revealed to cover tools, techniques, and strategies to defeat known attacks and exploits and to practice pre-emptive techniques to deflect and defeat potential attacks and exploits. Covers basic lockdown techniques, intrusion detection and protection measures, essential countermeasures; includes a large collection of tools and utilities to help conduct lockdown activities. This second edition offers 170+ new countermeasures and nearly 75 methods for patching Unix and Windows OSs. The CD includes a full version of TigerSurf 2.0 Intrusion Defense (single license).

Chirillo, John: Hack Attacks Testing: How to Conduct Your Own Security Audit, John Wiley & Sons, 2003, ISBN: 0471229466.
The latest work from Chirillo focuses on security analysis tools you can use to conduct security audits on your networks to expose vulnerabilities, breaches, and holes. He covers multiple OSs, including Windows, Linux, Solaris, and Mac OS X. Each chapter offers step-by-step instructions for installing, configuring, and using popular auditing tools and scanners, such as CyberCop, ISS, Nessus, SAINT, and STAT.

Danseglio, Mike: Securing Windows Server 2003, O’Reilly, 2004, ISBN: 0596006853.
Takes a practical, hands-on look at what’s involved in locking down Windows Server 2003 in small- to medium-sized business environments. Follows a nice review of security basics and best practices with useful coverage of Group Policy, security templates, signed code, authentication, IP security, certificates, and PKI. Also provides good security information on DHCP, DNS, IIS, Active Directory, and Remote Access topics.

Denning, Dorothy E.: Information Warfare and Security, Addison-Wesley, 1998, ISBN: 0201433036.
A renowned computer security expert from academia, Dr. Denning's book covers most topics from news related to computer security and electronic warfare. She deals with topics that include electronic warfare, espionage, fraud, identity theft, piracy, and sabotage, drawing on real-world examples reported in the media, including information warfare operations conducted during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Threats are covered along with countermeasures and covers topics from cybercrime, to terrorism, national security, information security, and individual rights. An outstanding overview of modern-day security subject matter.

Erickson, Jon: Hacking: The Art of Exploitation, No Starch Press, 2003, ISBN: 1593270070.
Widely regarded as one of the best hacking books around, this short (250 pages) treatment combines great analysis and discussion of hacking techniques with lots of code and examples. With especially clear coverage of heap and stack overflows (aka buffer overruns or buffer overflows) this book not only explains what’s involved in hacking, but walks readers through common tools and techniques.

Ermann, M. David and Michele S. Shauf (editors): Computers, Ethics, and Society, 3e, Oxford University Press, 2002, ISBN: 0195143027.
Including articles and information related to the ethical and social aspects involved in increasing and critical uses for computing technology. Addresses issues from Internet copyrights, to the impact of computing technology on women, minorities, and the Third World. Also covers how right-wing militias, terrorists, and other underground organizations and movements use the Internet. An excellent introduction to ethical concepts in computing that’s useful as a secondary or post-secondary textbook.

Fadia, Ankit: Network Security: A Hacker's Perspective, Premier Press, 2002, ISBN: 1592000452.
This compact book acquaints the reader with the psyche of a hacker, and explains how anyone from a home user to a networking professional can protect private information. By becoming a "real hacker profiler," you learn the reasons and methods attackers use to infiltrate computer systems. Topics include identity theft, IP address security, sniffing, port scanning, fingerprinting, and password file attacks. The author includes a nifty section named "Fadia's Hot Picks""—a short list of proven security tools—in each chapter.

Grimes, Roger A.: Malicious Mobile Code: Virus Protection for Windows, O'Reilly & Associates, 2001, ISBN: 156592682X.
Although this book focuses exclusively on the Microsoft Windows operating systems, it provides excellent general coverage of "malicious code"—including the viruses, Trojan horses, worms, and so forth so often encountered online and in the news of late. Offers advice on how to counter and deflect such code, and how to manage Windows systems and software to minimize potential exposure to infection and harm. Also explains how to analyze and disinfect systems that become compromised, and how to restore normal operations thereafter. Generally agreed to be one of the most comprehensive and readable books on the subject around.

Kaufmann, Charlie et al.: Network Security: Private Communication in a Public World, 2e, Prentice Hall PTR, 2002, ISBN: 0130460192.
An enduring classic in computer security goes into a welcome second edition. This book covers basic security technologies, protocols, encryption and authentication techniques, digital signatures and certifications, and so forth, along with copious coverage of key network services and communication techniques. Both an outstanding general overview of key topics, and a useful resource on encryption, authentication, and how such technologies are used (or misused) when seeking to secure communications, prove identity, and so forth.

Littlejohn Shinder, Debra: Scene of the Cybercrime: Computer Forensics Handbook, Syngress, 2002, ISBN: 1931836655.
Deb Shinder is a former law enforcement professional turned computer security maven. As such, she brings a unique perspective to this book, equally appreciative of technical details and the sometimes persnickety requirements of managing legal evidence. The book does a great job of covering computer crime, computer forensics, and legal and ethical considerations, and provides great case studies and examples from the popular press to illustrate its many points and topics. (Disclosure: I tech-edited this book, and wrote one of its chapters, but it still gets good reviews anyway!)

Lockhart, Andrew: Network Security Hacks, O'Reilly, 2004, ISBN: 0596006438.
Good coverage of networking topics and break-ins as they apply to Linux, BSD, and Windows operating systems. Does better at covering topics off the beaten track—such as various lesser known hacking tools—than when covering topics common to most treatments of the subject matter. A great “second reference” on this topic, for those interested in digging deeper into this subject matter (or pursuing credentials like the Certified Ethical Hacker).

Menezes, Alfred J. et al: Handbook of Applied Cryptography, CRC Press, 1996, ISBN: 0849385237.
CRC Press is a well-known compiler of technical information on many subjects from mathematics to biology, primarily for use in reference books. This exhaustive reference includes coverage of key topics in cryptography from shared secrets to public key technologies, and provides information on related encryption techniques and algorithms in use. Detailed mathematical treatments abound, as does coverage of key security protocols, implementations, standards, and patents. An excellent reference for those seeking coverage of the entire modern subject matter for cryptography.

Mitnick, Kevin D. and William L. Simon: The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security, John Wiley & Sons, 2002, ISBN: 0471237124.
Reading more like a thriller than an ordinary IT book, the world's most famous hacker shares his repertoire of con games, deceits, and the grifting techniques he used successfully to attack business systems and processes. Since his release from prison in 2000, Mitnick has become a popular computer security expert. Today, he helps companies detect security breaches and teaches them how to prevent future incidents. The book presents perspectives from both sides of the game—attacker and victim. A good read!

Nicholls, Randall K. et al: Defining Your Digital Assets Against Hackers, Crackers, Spies, and Thieves, McGraw-Hill Professional, 2000, ISBN: 0072122854.
The focus of this security book is more general and procedural—with a particular emphasis on identification of assets and assessments of related potential risks—than many other books included in this reading list. Here, motivations and strategies that drive attempts to penetrate or compromise systems are more important than the software and techniques used to defeat them. Likewise, coverage of defensive strategies for preventing or mitigating attacks, and forensic techniques to analyze impacts of successful attacks, are more important than the details involved in their implementation. A good introductory book on general system and network security.

Noonan, Wes: Hardening Network Infrastructure, McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2004, ISBN: 0072255021.
An excellent, detail-oriented, hands-on guide to securing networked environments, this book gets rave reviews from many different quarters in the security community. Both the author’s clear, concise writing style and his inclusion of specifics, best practices, and examples come in for praise and acknowledgement. A great book for practitioners and cert candidates alike.

Piekari, Cyrus and Anton Chuvakin: Security Warrior, O’Reilly, 2004, ISBN: 0596005458.
An outstanding litany and analysis of security exploits, aimed at security professionals seeking to understand their workings and how to mitigate them. Though the book is detailed enough to teach even hackers a thing or two, it’s a great book for security professionals seeking to improve their understanding of how exploits are discovered and exploited in production environments.

Rubin, Avriel D.: White-Hat Security Arsenal: Tackling the Threats, Addison-Wesley, 2001, ISBN: 0201711141.
From the title, you'd expect this book to analyze attacks and describe how to defeat them. In reality, this book does best in its discussions of security protocols: it describes their capabilities, how they work, and explores important details related to their operation. Particularly useful for its coverage of SSL, packet filters, secure storage methods, and secure data exchange techniques, it also covers firewalls, access controls, and cryptography very well.

Schiffman, Mike, et al.: Hacker’s Challenge 2: Test Your Network Security & Forensics Skills, 2e, McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2002, ISBN: 0072226307.
Shiffman et al. combine humor into real-world hacking challenges (that include a clever line-up of fictitious bad guys) for the reader to resolve. The book focuses on wireless security issues, network attacks, and security log analysis in a most entertaining way.

Smith, Ben, David LeBlanc, and Kevin Lam: Assessing Network Security (Pro-One-Offs), Microsoft Press, 2004, ISBN: 0735620334.
Written by the security pros who keep Microsoft’s sites up, running, and secure, this book covers the major topics important to hardening, auditing, and assessing security vulnerabilities in public sites and online services. These include planning and implementing security audits, penetration test for both nonintrusive and intrusive attacks, and numerous security assessment case studies, chock-full of real-world information, examples, and best practices.

Stallings, William: Cryptography and Network Security: Principles and Practice, 3e, Prentice Hall, 2002, ISBN: 0130914290.
Stallings is a stalwart fixture on any decent networking bookshelf; I've owned three or more current editions of his work since I graduated from a computer science program in 1981. This widely adopted textbook on cryptography and network security topics provides an excellent, if detailed, introduction to the algorithms and techniques associated with private and public key cryptography, and their numerous and varied applications to all kinds of network security topics from networking protocols and services. Also covers the full range of general network security topics from firewalls and intrusion detection, to malicious code, to related standards, protocols, and services used to improve or impose security on systems and networks. Probably the best introduction to security for the technically inclined.

Tittel, Ed: PC Magazine Fighting Spyware, Viruses, and Malware, John Wiley & Sons, 2004, ISBN: 0764577697.
I include my own books in this kind of list with a little trepidation, but this book covers all the key issues that SOHO users face in securing standalone systems and small networks that attach to the Internet. Includes lots of examples, analyses, tool reviews, and recommends numerous best security practices and behaviors. A good book for security professionals to give to family members who otherwise require ongoing handholding and tech support.

Viega, John and Gary McGraw: Building Secure Software: How to Avoid Security Problems the Right Way, Addison-Wesley, 2001, ISBN: 020172152X.
One of a handful of highly influential books on designing and building secure software available today, this one offers some of the best coverage on the topic. Aimed primarily at software developers who seek to build security into their systems and services as a fundamental design criterion, this book is also useful for security professionals who must communicate such concerns to in-house development organizations or who are trying to understand potential causes for insecure behavior in software designed without security objectives in mind. An excellent reference and developer's guide.

Young, Adam and Moti Yung: Malicious Cryptography: Exposing Cryptovirology, John Wiley & Sons, 2004, ISBN: 0764549758.
Many, if not most, security technologies can be used for malicious purposes as well as benign ones. This book explores the ways in which cryptographic tools and techniques may be (and have been) used to create malware and mount attacks based on a combination of keen technical insights and malign intent. The book focuses more on how machines may be mined and exploited, how and why viruses can remain stealthy using encryption, and talks about techniques used to exploit confidential data once obtained, rather than dealing with methods of compromise. A fascinating read nevertheless.

Kim Lindros provided research and fact checking for this article.

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