Cybershock

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted October 01, 2000
by Amy H. Blankstein

It's their world, you just do business there. In Cybershock: Surviving Hackers, Phreakers, Identity Thieves, Internet Terrorists and Weapons of Mass Disruption, author Winn Schwartau wants his readers to know that the Internet is not a nice neighborhood. Schwartau's approach is that of the tough-talkin', tell-it-like-it-is cop at a high school assembly, determined to open his naive audience's eyes to the potential perils of the digital age street. The title may suggest a pulp fiction scare fest, but it reads like a cross between a naturalist's field guide and a solid self-help book. Cybershock is for anyone doing business in the 21st Century.

Schwartau introduces us to the characters that inhabit the neighborhood. He presents a rather unsettling psychological profile that binds the various flavors of hackers, from the lowly script kiddies and wannabes on up to terrorist hackers. But Schwartau makes it clear that not all hackers are bad. He even likens some to explorers who refuse to accept the world at face value, and thus push the intellectual envelope to the eventual benefit of society. Even destructive Black Hat hackers provide a service by exposing previously hidden vulnerabilities. But despite this descriptive embrace, the author sternly reminds his audience to beware. After colorful descriptions of these characters (including a bizarre chapter that takes the reader inside the annual hacker convention in Las Vegas), Schwartau describes the many ways that hackers, well, hack. The last half of the book outlines the many ways in which computer systems and information, both business and personal, can be vulnerable. Schwartau then provides advice on how to determine whether your systems and information are vulnerable, and outlines steps to take to protect yourself, your family, and your business.

Cybershock is a fairly engaging read, though the author sometimes meanders. Schwartau overcomes the technical subject matter with a conversational approach and liberally shares anecdotes from the Internet's underworld. Just remember to take a deep breath before you enter. (Thunder's Mouth Press, ISBN 1-56025-246-4, 576pp, $24.95)

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