Review: Computer Security Basics 2nd Edition

    Date 16 Apr 2010
    Posted By Anthony Pell
    In a perfect world, a book like this wouldn't be necessary anymore, except for the new entries into security. Businesses and organizations would have all gotten the point by now. And yet, gaps in security, flaws in policy and general complacency have made an overview of security just as important today as it was five years ago. In a review of this second edition of Computer Security Basics, however, Robert Slade sums up a resource that could have had potential, but instead, fails to live up to its predecessor.


    Title Computer Security Basics, Second Edition
    Authors Rick Lehtinen, Deborah Russell, G. T. Gangemi Sr.
    Pages 296
    ISBN 0-596-00669-1
    Publisher O'Reilly and Associates, Inc.
    Edition 2nd Edition


    Computer Security Basics was a pretty accurate name for the first edition. The book was an overview of many aspects that go into the security of computers and data systems. While not exhaustive, it provided a starting point from which to pursue specific topics that required more detailed study. Such is no longer the case.

    Part one looks at security for today. Chapter one starts with 9/11, then talks about various infosec groups, and only then gets to an introduction of what security is, and how to evaluate potential loopholes. The definition points out the useful difference between the problems of confidentiality and availability, and now adds integrity. The distinction between threats, vulnerabilities and countermeasures is helpful, but may fail to resolve certain issues. Ironically, in view of the title of this section, chapter two gives some historical background to the development of modern data security.

    Part two deals with computer security itself. Chapter three looks at access control, but is somewhat unstructured. Malware and viruses receive the all-too-usual mix of advice and inaccuracies in chapter four. Policy is supposed to be the topic of chapter five, but most of the text is concerned with matters of operations. Internet and Web technologies, and a few network attacks, are listed in chapter six.

    The prior inclusion of network topics is rather funny, since part three delves into communications security. Chapter seven turns first to encryption, which could be presumed to have applications in more than communications, although it is important in that field. The material on encryption is quite scattered and disorganized, and the explanation of asymmetric systems is probably more confusing than helpful. A lot about networks, a list of network security components, and not much that is useful makes up chapter eight.

    Part four turns to other types of security. Chapter nine takes a confused look at physical security, and includes biometrics: as with encryption and communications, the topic that could be related to physical security, but might more properly be dealt with elsewhere. Chapter ten reviews wireless LANs, mentioning threats, but only tersely listing security measures, with no detail for use or implementation.

    The original version of the book was a good starting point for beginners who had to deal with computer security at a basic level. This second edition is a tremendous disappointment: Lehtinen has done a disservice not only to Russell and Gangemi, but also to those relying on this foundational guide. The tone of the first edition may have been too pompous, but the contents were informed by the primary concerns for information security. This update has introduced random new technical trivia, muddied the structure and flow, and reduced the value of the reference overall.

    copyright Robert M. Slade, 1993, 2002, 2006 BKCMPSEC.RVW 20060819

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