Intercept: The Secret History of Computers and Spies

I needed a break from text books recently, so picked up Intercept by Gordon Corera for a relaxed, light read. Covering the origins of ‘computers’ in espionage back during the first world war, through to major attacks of the last few years, Gordon covers the topic objectively and with enough depth to be informative without overwhelming a more casual reader.

Going from the first war, through Bletchley, the cold war, national corporate espionage, and the beginnings of genuine cyber warfare involving known damage to infrastructure, Intercept provides a narrative framework for the parallel development of computer espionage with computers themselves – as well as asking interesting questions about the meaning of espionage in our new information age. There’s a sizeable mention of Cliff Stoll’s adventures as well, which provides a lot of wider context around the Cuckoo’s Egg.

Definitely an easy read, written in a light, narrative style while still managing to avoid imposing moral judgments on the decisions taken – simply examining their effects and consequences. One to take on the beach or out to the park, or just to sit and read on the train. Recommended especially to anyone interested in the history of computer espionage through the 20th century to today.

Genre: computer, espionage, history, security
Subjects: computer espionage, history, security

The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage by Cliff Stoll

Every now and then I’ll read a book which I add to my library on the history of security. The Cuckoo’s Egg by Cliff Stoll has definitely earned its place among them. Well written for a non-technical audience, with enough detail for those of a more technical leaning to fill in the gaps, it’s a great read.

From the initial discovery from an accounting error down to an intruder’s unfamiliarity with software, through over a year of careful and methodical tracking, monitoring, and running headlong into bureaucratic brick walls (which may be familiar to some), to a dramatic climax. Throughout Stoll gives a very personal, first-hand account of the hunt, the effect that being a computer security expert can have on your life (early morning calls may bring back bad memories for some), and the way that looking into security deeply enough brings about the realisation that while it is a solution, and is needed, the need for openness cannot be overstated.

Especially interesting are the principles which Stoll details during his chase of the spy, all of which are in use in some form today. Of course, the criticisms of certain agencies only ever taking in information and not sharing it, to the detriment of innocents, is a political position that many would agree with even now – particularly given some recent leaks of vulnerability stockpiles.

If you’re looking for a security read for the beach (or, more appropriately at this time of year in front of the fireplace with a hot, alcoholic drink) then this is definitely one to grab. And if you’re looking for a Christmas present for your security aware and/or professionally paranoid friends or family then I cannot recommend The Cuckoo’s Egg highly enough.

Genre: autobiography, computer, espionage, security
Subjects: autobiography, computer espionage, counter-espionage, security