Category: books

On Language

I was irked to see a tweet “Learned a new word! Pseudoarboricity: the number of pseudoforests needed to cover a graph. Yes, it is actually a word and so is pseudoforest.” The idea that some letter combinations are “actual words” implies that others are “not actual words,” and thus, that there is some authority who may tell me what letter combinations I am allowed to use or understand.

Balderdash. Adorkable balderdash, but balderdash nonetheless.

As any student of Orwell shall recall, the test of language is its comprehensibility, not its adhesion to some standard. As an author, I sometimes hear from people who believe themselves to be authorities, or who believe that they may select for me authorities as to the meanings of words, and who wish to tell me that my use of the word “threat” threatens their understanding, that the preface’s explicit discussion of the many plain meanings of the word is insufficient, or that my sentences are too long, comma-filled, dash deficient or otherwise Oxfordless in a way which seems to cause them to feel superior to me in a way they wish to, at some length, convey.

In fact, on occasion, they are irked. I recommend to them, and to you, “You Are What You Speak.”

I wish them the best, and fall back, if you’ll so allow, to a comment from another master of language, speaking through one of his characters:

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

Usable Security: History, Themes, and Challenges (Book Review)

Simson Garfinkel and Heather Lipford’s Usable Security: History, Themes, and Challenges should be on the shelf of anyone who is developing software that asks people to make decisions about computer security.

We have to ask people to make decisions because they have information that the computer doesn’t. My favorite example is the Windows “new network” dialog, which asks what sort of network you’re connecting to..work, home or coffee shop. The information is used to configure the firewall. My least favorite example is phishing, where people are asked to make decisions about technical minutiae before authenticating. Regardless, we are not going to entirely remove the need for people to make decisions about computer security. So we can either learn to gain their participation in more effective ways, or we can accept a very high failure rate. The former option is better, and this book is a substantial contribution.

It’s common for designers to throw up their hands at these challenges, saying things like “given a choice between security and dancing babies, people will choose dancing babies every time,” or “you can’t patch human stupidity.” However, in a recently published study by Google and UCSD, they found that the best sites only fooled 45% of the people who clicked through, while overall only 13% did. (There’s a good summary of that study available.) Claiming that “people will choose dancing babies 13% of the time” just doesn’t seem like a compelling argument against trying.

This slim book is a review of the academic work that’s been published, almost entirely in the last 20 years, on how people interact with information security systems. It summarizes and contextualizes the many things we’ve learned, mistakes that have been made, and does so in a readable and concise way. The book has six chapters:

  • Intro
  • A brief history
  • Major Themes in UPS Academic Research
  • Lessons Learned
  • Research Challenges
  • Conclusion/The Next Ten Years

The “Major themes” chapter is 61 or so pages, which is over half of the 108 pages of content. (The book also has 40 pages of bibliography). Major themes include authentication, email security and PKI, anti-phishing, storage, device pairing, web privacy, policy specification, mobile, social media and security administration.

The “Lessons Learned” chapter is quite solid, covering “reduce decisions,” “safe and secure defaults,” “provide users with better information, not more information,” “users require clear context to make good decisions,” “information presentation is critical” and “education works but has limits.” I have a quibble, which is Sasse’s concept of mental ‘compliance budgets’ is also important, and I wish it were given greater prominence. (My other quibble is more of a pet peeve: the term “user” where “people” would serve. Isn’t it nicer to say “people require clear context to make good decisions”?) Neither quibble should take away from my key message, which is that this is an important new book.

The slim nature of the book is, I believe, an excellent usability property. The authors present what’s been done, lessons that they feel can be taken away, and move to the next topic. This lets you the reader design, build or deploy systems which help the person behind the keyboard make the decisions they want to make. To re-iterate, anyone building software that asks people to make decisions should read the lessons contained within.

Disclaimer: I was paid to review a draft of this book, and my name is mentioned kindly in the acknowledgements. I am not being paid to write or post reviews.

[Updated to correct the sentence about the last 20 years.]

Seattle event: Ada's Books

Shostack threat modeling Adas

For Star Wars day, I’m happy to share this event poster for my talk at Ada’s Books in Seattle
Technical Presentation: Adam Shostack shares Threat Modeling Lessons with Star Wars.

This will be a less technical talk with plenty of discussion and interactivity, drawing on some of the content from “Security Lessons from Star Wars,” adapted for a more general audience.

Threat Modeling: Designing for Security

Threat modeling book 300

I am super-excited to announce that my new book, Threat Modeling: Designing for Security (Wiley, 2014) is now available wherever fine books are sold!

The official description:

If you’re a software developer, systems manager, or security professional, this book will show you how to use threat modeling in the security development lifecycle and the overall software and systems design processes. Author and security expert Adam Shostack puts his considerable expertise to work in this book that, unlike any other, details the process of building improved security into the design of software, computer services, and systems — from the very beginning.

  • Find and fix security issues before they hurt you or your customers
  • Learn to use practical and actionable tools, techniques, and approaches for software developers, IT professionals, and security enthusiasts
  • Explore the nuances of software-centric threat modeling and discover its application to software and systems during the build phase and beyond
  • Apply threat modeling to improve security when managing complex systems (or even simple ones!)
  • Manage potential threats using a structured, methodical framework
  • Discover and discern evolving security threats
  • Use specific, actionable advice regardless of software type, operating system, or program approaches and techniques validated and proven to be effective at Microsoft and other top IT companies

Threat Modeling: Designing for Security is full of actionable, tested advice for software developers, systems architects and managers, and security professionals. From the very first chapter, it teaches the reader how to threat model. That is, how to use models to predict and prevent problems, even before you’ve started coding.

Threat Modeling: Designing for Security is jargon-free, accessible, and provides proven frameworks that are designed to integrate into real projects that need to ship on tight schedules.

For more information, I’ve set up a small book website: threatmodelingbook.com.

Availability

Amazon has Kindle edition, and is saying that the paperback will ship in “9-11 days.” I believe that’s startup issues in getting the books to and through the warehousing system, but don’t know details. I will be having a book signing at RSA, Wednesday at 11 AM in Moscone South. (iCal reminder.)

Future blogging

In light of me celebrating the joyous chaos of what to put on which blog, but more importantly, not wanting readers to have to subscribe to three blogs, I’ll be blogging about threat modeling over on the New School blog.

What's Copyright, Doc?

I blogged yesterday about all the new works that have entered the public domain as their copyright expired in the United States. If you missed it, that’s because exactly nothing entered the public domain yesterday.

Read more — but only commentary, because there’s no newly free work — at “What Could Have Entered the Public Domain on January 1, 2014?

It’s near-impossible to see how our insanely long copyright terms, or their never-ending extensions encourage Dr. Seuss, Ayn Rand, Jack Kerouac or Ian Fleming to keep producing new work. Those authors have been richly rewarded for their work. But it’s easy to see how keeping those works under copyright reduces creative re-use of our collective cultural heritage.

A Mini-Review of "The Practice of Network Security Monitoring"

NSM book coverRecently the kind folks at No Starch Press sent me a review copy of Rich Bejtlich’s newest book The Practice of Network Security Monitoring and I can’t recommend it enough. It is well worth reading from a theory perspective, but where it really shines is digging into the nuts and bolts of building an NSM program from the ground up. He has essentially built a full end to end tutorial on a broad variety of tools (especially Open Source ones) that will help with every aspect of the program, from collection to analysis to reporting.

As someone who used to own security monitoring and incident response for various organizations, the book was a great refresher on the why and wherefores of building an NSM program and it was really interesting to see how much the tools have evolved over the last 10 years or so since I was in the trenches with the bits and bytes. This is a great resource though regardless of your level of experience and will be a great reference work for years to come. Go read it…

A Very Late Book Review


I have to start off by apologizing for how very late this review is, an embarrassing long time ago, the kind folks at No Starch Press very kindly gave me a copy of “Super Scratch Programming Adventure” to review. Scratch for those that aren’t familiar is a kids oriented programming language designed by Mitchel Resnick of the MIT Media Lab, the same team that developed the programmable bricks for Lego Mindstorms.

The book is in manga format and very entertaining and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was so much fun, that when my then ten year old asked to learn how to program with the long term goal of writing his own minecraft mods, I handed him the book and asked him what he thought. To say he whipped through the book is an understatement. He actually finished it in one reading and immediately asked if he could start playing with Scratch on the family laptop.

Over the next few days he worked his way through some of the programs in the book and put the book aside for a long while. Recently we were talking about an upcoming Lego robotics class he had coming up and he remembered that he had the copy of “Super Scratch Programming Adventure” in his room. He dug it out and this time he worked his way through all the programs quite quickly.

I asked him what he thought of the book and said it was very good; that he really liked the comic book format and that he wished more books were done that way. At this point he’s excited enough that we’ll either dig deeper into Scratch together or we’ll switch to a games oriented text like No Starch’s “Realm of Racket” or possibly Sweigarts’s “Invent Your Own Computer Games with Python”.

Regardless of what we decide to do however, I can highly recommend ““Super Scratch Programming Adventure” as a great introduction to programming for kids or even non-kids who want a first very friendly exposure to programming. And again, my apologies to the folks at No Starch Press for taking so long on this review.

The Plateau Effect

The Plateau Effect is a powerful law of nature that affects everyone. Learn to identify plateaus and break through any stagnancy in your life— from diet and exercise, to work, to relationships.

The Plateau Effect shows how athletes, scientists, therapists, companies, and musicians around the world are learning to break through their plateaus—to turn off the forces that cause people to “get used to” things—and turn on human potential and happiness in ways that seemed impossible. The book identifies three key flattening forces that generate plateaus, two principles to guide readers in engineering a plateau’s destruction, and three actions to take to achieve peak behavior. It helps us to stop wasting time on things that are no longer of value and to focus on the things that leverage our time and energy in spectacular ways.

Here at Emergent Chaos, we’re fans of both of the authors of the Plateau Effect. Bob Sullivan is the journalist who got us on a ChoicePoint kick, which might have been something of a Plateau Effect, good and bad, for us.

I look forward to reading the book, and finding out!

You can learn more about it at http://www.plateaueffect.com/.

Why the Star Wars Prequels Sucked

It is a truism that the Star Wars prequels sucked. (Elsewhere, I’ve commented that the franchise being sold to Disney means someone can finally tell the tragic story of Anakin Skywalker’s seduction by the dark side.)

But the issue of exactly why they sucked is complex and layered, and most of us prefer not to consider it too deeply. Fortunately, you no longer have to. You can simply get “Why the Star Wars Prequels Sucked, and Why It Matters,” a short “Polemic on Aesthetics, Ethics and Politics. With Lightsabers.”

Really, what else do you need to know?

An example? Ok, the diner scene, and how it compares to the cantina scene. The cantina exudes otherness and menace. The diner looks like it was filmed in 1950s and then had a few weird things ‘shopped in. The scene undercuts the world which Star Wars established. Or the casual tossing in that Anakin was a virgin birth, and how after tying to one of the most enduring stories in western culture, the subject is then never referred to again.

Or the utter lack of consequence of anything in the stories, since we already know how they’ll come out, and how, by focusing on characters whose fates we know, Lucas drains any dramatic tension of of the story. The list goes on and on, and if you want to know why you hated the prequels so much, this is a short and easy read, and highly worthwhile.

Oh, and you’ll learn how Lando Calrissian is Faust. So go buy it already.

One last thing. Delano Lopez? That’s a name I hadn’t heard in a very long time. But he and I went to school together.

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