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Cybersecurity Myths and Misconceptions: Avoiding the Hazards and Pitfalls that Derail Us

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Cybersecurity Myths and Misconceptions: Avoiding the Hazards and Pitfalls that Derail Us

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From the Authors:
Eugene H. Spafford joins the Humans of Info Sec podcast hosted by Caroline Wong. Listen to Episode 75: How Today's Technology Choices Could Shape Our Future.

Eugene H. Spafford joins the Real CyberSecurity podcast hosted by Greg Young and Bill Malik. Listen to Episode 64: Interview with Dr Gene Spafford.


  • Copyright 2023
  • Dimensions: 7" x 9-1/8"
  • Pages: 416
  • Edition: 1st
  • Book
  • ISBN-10: 0-13-792923-4
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-13-792923-8

175+ Cybersecurity Misconceptions and the Myth-Busting Skills You Need to Correct Them

Elected into the Cybersecurity Canon Hall of Fame!

Cybersecurity is fraught with hidden and unsuspected dangers and difficulties. Despite our best intentions, there are common and avoidable mistakes that arise from folk wisdom, faulty assumptions about the world, and our own human biases. Cybersecurity implementations, investigations, and research all suffer as a result. Many of the bad practices sound logical, especially to people new to the field of cybersecurity, and that means they get adopted and repeated despite not being correct. For instance, why isn't the user the weakest link?

In Cybersecurity Myths and Misconceptions: Avoiding the Hazards and Pitfalls that Derail Us, three cybersecurity pioneers don't just deliver the first comprehensive collection of falsehoods that derail security from the frontlines to the boardroom; they offer expert practical advice for avoiding or overcoming each myth.

Whatever your cybersecurity role or experience, Eugene H. Spafford, Leigh Metcalf, and Josiah Dykstra will help you surface hidden dangers, prevent avoidable errors, eliminate faulty assumptions, and resist deeply human cognitive biases that compromise prevention, investigation, and research. Throughout the book, you'll find examples drawn from actual cybersecurity events, detailed techniques for recognizing and overcoming security fallacies, and recommended mitigations for building more secure products and businesses.

  • Read over 175 common misconceptions held by users, leaders, and cybersecurity professionals, along with tips for how to avoid them.
  • Learn the pros and cons of analogies, misconceptions about security tools, and pitfalls of faulty assumptions. What really is the weakest link? When aren't "best practices" best?
  • Discover how others understand cybersecurity and improve the effectiveness of cybersecurity decisions as a user, a developer, a researcher, or a leader.
  • Get a high-level exposure to why statistics and figures may mislead as well as enlighten.
  • Develop skills to identify new myths as they emerge, strategies to avoid future pitfalls, and techniques to help mitigate them.

"You are made to feel as if you would never fall for this and somehow this makes each case all the more memorable. . . . Read the book, laugh at the right places, and put your learning to work. You won't regret it."
--From the Foreword by Vint Cerf, Internet Hall of Fame Pioneer

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Sample Content

Online Sample Chapter

What Is Cybersecurity?

Table of Contents

Foreword by Vint Cerf xxiii
Introduction xxiv
Acknowledgments xxxiii
About the Authors xxxiv

Part I: General Issues 1

Chapter 1: What Is Cybersecurity? 2
Everyone Knows What "Cybersecurity" Means 2
We Can Measure How Secure Our Systems Are 5
The Primary Goal of Cybersecurity Is Security 11
Cybersecurity Is About Obvious Risks 12
Sharing More Cyber Threat Intel Will Make Things Better 14
What Matters to You Matters to Everyone Else 16
Product X Will Make You Secure 17
Macs Are Safer Than PCs, Linux Is Safer Than Windows 18
Open Source Software Is More Secure Than Closed Source Software 19
Technology X Will Make You Secure 20
Process X Will Make You Secure 21
Færie Dust Can Make Old Ideas Magically Revolutionary 22
Passwords Should Be Changed Often 23
Believe and Fear Every Hacking Demo You See 26
Cyber Offense Is Easier Than Defense 27
Operational Technology (OT) Is Not Vulnerable 29
Breaking Systems Is the Best Way to Establish Yourself 30
Because You Can, You Should 30
Better Security Means Worse Privacy 32
Further Reading 33

Chapter 2: What Is the Internet? 36
Everyone Knows What the "Internet" Means 36
An IP Address Identifies a Unique Machine 37
The Internet Is Managed and Controlled by a Central Body 39
The Internet Is Largely Static 40
Your Network Is Static 41
Email Is Private 43
Cryptocurrency Is Untraceable 44
Everything Can Be Fixed with Blockchain 46
The Internet Is Like an Iceberg 46
A VPN Makes You Anonymous 48
A Firewall Is Enough 49
Further Reading 51

Part II: Human Issues 55

Chapter 3: Faulty Assumptions and Magical Thinking 56
Humans Will Behave Rationally, So Blame the User! 57
We Know Everything We Need to Know About Cybersecurity Problems 62
Compliance Equals (Complete) Security 63
Authentication Provides Confidentiality 65
I Can Never Be Secure, So Why Bother? 65
I Am Too Small/Insignificant to Be a Target 66
Everybody Is Out to Get Me 69
I Engage Only with Trusted Websites, So My Data Is Safe from a Breach 71
Security by Obscurity Is Reasonably Secure 72
The Illusions of Visibility and Control 74
Five 9's Is the Key to Cybersecurity 76
Everybody Has Top-of-the-Line Technology 78
We Can Predict Future Threats 80
Security People Control Security Outcomes 81
All Bad Outcomes Are the Result of a Bad Decision 82
More Security Is Always Better 84
Best Practices Are Always Best 85
Because It Is Online It Must Be True/Correct 86
Further Reading 87

Chapter 4: Fallacies and Misunderstandings 88
The False Cause Fallacy: Correlation Is Causation 89
Absence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence 92
The Straw Hacker Fallacy 94
Ad Hominem Fallacy 95
Hasty Generalization Fallacy 96
Regression Fallacy 97
Base Rate Fallacy 98
Gambler's Fallacy 100
Fallacies of Anomalies 100
Ignorance of Black Swans 101
Conjunction and Disjunction Fallacies 103
Valence Effect 104
Endowment Effect 104
Sunk Cost Fallacy 105
Bonus Fallacies 107
Further Reading 109

Chapter 5: Cognitive Biases 110
Action Bias 112
Omission Bias 113
Survivorship Bias 115
Confirmation Bias 116
Choice Affirmation Bias 117
Hindsight Bias 117
Availability Bias 119
Social Proof 121
Overconfidence Bias 122
Zero Risk Bias 123
Frequency Bias 124
Bonus Biases 125
Further Reading 128

Chapter 6: Perverse Incentives and the Cobra Effect 130
The Goal of a Security Vendor Is to Keep You Secure 131
Your Cybersecurity Decisions Affect Only You 132
Bug Bounties Eliminate Bugs from the Offensive Market 134
Cyber Insurance Causes People to Take Less Risk 135
Fines and Penalties Cause People to Take Less Risk 136
Attacking Back Would Help Stop Cyber Crime 137
Innovation Increases Security and Privacy Incidents 138
Further Reading 139

Chapter 7: Problems and Solutions 140
Failure Is Not an Option in Cybersecurity 141
Every Problem Has a Solution 142
Anecdotes Are Good Leads for Cybersecurity Solutions 147
Detecting More "Bad Stuff" Means the New Thing Is an Improvement 148
Every Security Process Should Be Automated 149
Professional Certifications Are Useless 151
Further Reading 158

Part III: Contextual Issues 161

Chapter 8: Pitfalls of Analogies and Abstractions 162
Cybersecurity Is Like the Physical World 165
Cybersecurity Is Like Medicine and Biology 170
Cybersecurity Is Like Fighting a War 172
Cybersecurity Law Is Analogous to Physical-World Law 175
Tips for Analogies and Abstractions 175
Further Reading 178

Chapter 9: Legal Issues 180
Cybersecurity Law Is Analogous to Physical-World Law 181
Your Laws Do Not Apply to Me Where I Am 182
That Violates My First Amendment Rights! 184
Legal Code Supersedes Computer Code 186
Law Enforcement Will Never Respond to Cyber Crimes 191
You Can Always Hide Information by Suing 193
Suing to Suppress a Breach Is a Good Idea 194
Terms and Conditions Are Meaningless 194
The Law Is on My Side, So I Do Not Need to Worry 195
Further Reading 196

Chapter 10: Tool Myths and Misconceptions 198
The More Tools, The Better 199
Default Configurations Are Always Secure 201
A Tool Can Stop All Bad Things 203
Intent Can Be Determined from Tools 205
Security Tools Are Inherently Secure and Trustworthy 207
Nothing Found Means All Is Well 209
Further Reading 212

Chapter 11: Vulnerabilities 214
We Know Everything There Is to Know About Vulnerabilities 215
Vulnerabilities Are Sparse 218
Attackers Are Getting More Proficient 218
Zero-Day Vulnerabilities Are Most Important 219
All Attacks Hinge on a Vulnerability 223
Exploits and Proofs of Concept Are Bad 226
Vulnerabilities Happen Only in Complex Code 228
First Movers Should Sacrifice Security 230
Patches Are Always Perfect and Available 231
Defenses Might Become Security Vulnerabilities with Time 236
All Vulnerabilities Can Be Fixed 237
Scoring Vulnerabilities Is Easy and Well Understood 239
Because You Can, You Should--Vulnerabilities Edition 240
Vulnerability Names Reflect Their Importance 241
Further Reading 242

Chapter 12: Malware 244
Using a Sandbox Will Tell Me Everything I Need to Know 246
Reverse Engineering Will Tell Me Everything I Need to Know 249
Malware and Geography Are/Are Not Related 251
I Can Always Determine Who Made the Malware and Attacked Me 253
Malware Is Always a Complex Program That Is Difficult to Understand 254
Free Malware Protection Is Good Enough 256
Only Shady Websites Will Infect Me 257
Because You Can, You Should--Malware Edition 258
Ransomware Is an Entirely New Kind of Malware 259
Signed Software Is Always Trustworthy 261
Malware Names Reflect Their Importance 263
Further Reading 264

Chapter 13: Digital Forensics and Incident Response 266
Movies and Television Reflect the Reality of Cyber 267
Incidents Are Discovered as Soon as They Occur 269
Incidents Are Discrete and Independent 270
Every Incident Is the Same Severity 271
Standard Incident Response Techniques Can Deal with Ransomware 272
Incident Responders Can Flip a Few Switches and Magically Everything
Is Fixed 273
Attacks Are Always Attributable 276
Attribution Is Essential 278
Most Attacks/Exfiltration of Data Originate from Outside the Organization 280
The Trojan Horse Defense Is Dead 281
Endpoint Data Is Sufficient for Incident Detection 282
Recovering from an Event Is a Simple and Linear Process 284
Further Reading 285

Part IV: Data Issues 287

Chapter 14: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics 288
Luck Prevents Cyber Attacks 289
The Numbers Speak for Themselves 290
Probability Is Certainty 290
Statistics Are Laws 293
Data Is Not Important to Statistics 303
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Can Solve All
Cybersecurity Problems 306
Further Reading 310

Chapter 15: Illustrations, Visualizations, and Delusions 312
Visualizations and Dashboards Are Inherently and Universally Helpful 313
Cybersecurity Data Is Easy to Visualize 319
Further Reading 324

Chapter 16: Finding Hope 326
Creating a Less Myth-Prone World 328
The Critical Value of Documentation 329
Meta-Myths and Recommendations 331
Avoiding Other and Future Traps 334
Parting Thoughts 334

Appendix: Short Background Explanations 336

Acronyms 344
Index 350


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