REVIEW: "Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent", Ryan Russell
"Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent", Ryan Russell, 2004,
%E Ryan Russell BlueBoar@thievco.com
%C 800 Hingham Street, Rockland, MA 02370
%I Syngress Media, Inc.
%O U$49.95/C$69.95 781-681-5151 fax: 781-681-3585 www.syngress.com
%P 402 p.
%T "Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent"
This book is fiction (more a series of short stories or scenarios than
a novel), but, like Winn Schwartau's "Pearl Harbor Dot Com" (cf.
BKPRHRDC.RVW, and "Terminal Compromise" before it, BKTRMCMP.RVW), the
authors intend the book to be taken as a serious addition to security
Chapter one is basically about hiding and paranoia. The central
character seems to be using a considerable amount of money to hide
while setting up some kind of crime, and then abandons everything.
The points in regard to ensuring computers and data are unrecoverable
are interesting, and probably workable. The more important aspects of
the plot which involve creating a team, employing cutouts, and
disappearing are left almost completely undetailed. If, therefore, we
are supposed to learn anything either about crime, or how to detect or
prevent it, the content and information simply aren't there. The
claim that the "technology" is real, and would work, is unverifiable
because we haven't had any technology yet. (The writing is edgy,
interesting, and mostly readable. However, it's also difficult and
confused in places.)
The story continues, via another character (two, actually) in chapter
two. This time the technical aspects are more detailed (and fairly
realistic) although the community factors are questionable (and the
story has some important gaps). (I can personally vouch for the fact
that the description of the physical attributes of that specific hotel
are bang on, although the ... umm ... social amenities are not.) An
"Aftermath" section is at the end of every chapter. In some instances
the segment provides a little advice on detecting the attacks
described in the story, but this is by no means true in all cases.
Nothing much is added in chapter three: a wireless network is
penetrated for a second time. Man-in-the-middle attacks, some IP, and
UNIX cracking are added in chapter four, phone phreaking in five, and
sniffing and rootkits in six. Chapters seven and eight describe
software analysis and exploits. Malware is used in chapter nine,
although there are the usual unresolved problems with directing
attacks and limiting spread. The lack of particulars on the intent of
the attack makes the chapter quite perplexing.
As with any volume where multiple authors work on separate chapters,
the quality of the writing varies. (That the authors did strive
together on the overall plot is evident from a few subtle ties between
different stories. An appendix lists some of the discussion in this
regard: for those interested in the process of writing and
collaboration it is an interesting piece in its own right.) One
specific point is that a few sections have very stilted dialogue.
Overall, most of the book is readable as fiction, although it is
hardly thriller level plotting.
Since it is fiction, the story has to be a story, and interesting, and
therefore contain elements that are not related to the technology
under examination. It is difficult to draw the line between not
enough and too much, but the authors do seem to have included an awful
lot of material that is unimportant either to the security functions
or to the plot. A number of these digressions are simply confusing.
The characters used in the stories are frequently stereotypes,
although not always of the same type. (I was very amused by the note
that the book attempted to remain true to geek culture, including
"swearing, boorishness, and allusions to sex without there being any
actual sex.") If you watch a lot of movies with somewhat technical
themes you can recognize where quite a number of personae come from.
Basic editing is the province of the publisher rather than the
author(s), but it must be noted that spelling, grammatical, and
typographical errors are surprisingly common. Not enough to be a real
annoyance, but a proper copy edit would have improved the book quite a
This book is certainly interesting enough (albeit rather disjointed)
as fiction, and technical enough for everyone tired of the usual
Hollywood view of computers. The security risks noted are real, and
therefore a read through the book could be used to alert non-
specialists to a number of security issues and vulnerabilities
(although you'd hardly want to use it for training). I enjoyed it and
I think it's got a place, although I'm having difficulty in defining
where that place is.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 2004 BKSTNHOC.RVW 20040721
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