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by Senior Editor

Summer Reading for Security Pros: Schneier or Sagan?

Jun 05, 20096 mins
Application SecurityEntertainment SoftwareSecurity

Sometimes, the security practitioner has to put down the latest tome on Trojans and terabytes and restore their sanity with something spiritual or even smutty. Here's what some of your colleagues are reading and why.

In one of the more famous episodes of the original “Star Trek” series — “The Trouble With Tribbles” — Capt. Kirk confines Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott to his personal quarters for getting into a bar fight.

After a sheepish, “Yes, sir,” Scotty’s face lights up as he says, “Thank you, sir! That’ll give me a chance to catch up on my technical journals.”

That’s how it is with some people. Even when given the chance to relax with a book, they choose something related to their craft.

In the case of a security practitioner, that might mean taking the works of Richard Clarke, Bruce Schneier or Gary McGraw on vacation.

But when CSOonline decided to conduct an informal poll on what security pros are reading these days, many mentioned a variety of non-security, non-technical authors and titles.

Sure, some can’t help but enjoy the latest tome on Trojans and terabytes. Some might even unwind by reading an article from this site; perhaps a little light reading like our recent interview with Securosis frontman Rich Mogull [Security Analyst to DLP Vendors: Watch Your Language] or, for something even more uplifting, a story on how swine flu is a wake-up call for emergency planners.

Kidding aside, what follows is a rundown of what some security pros are reading these days, or what they would be reading if stranded on a desert island:

Security pro: Karen Worstell, co-founder and managing principal, W Risk Group

  • The Bible, for faith
  • “Constantine’s Sword,” because “I will need to be stranded on an island to finish that tome.”
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, “Letters from Prison” for perspective
  • “Building Outrigger Sailing Canoes” for something to do
  • “Wilderness Survivors Guide: A Manual of Basic Survival Techniques for Scouts, Hunters, Campers, Hikers, Canoeists, Pilots, and All Others Unprepared to Meet the Challenge”
  • “The Art of Software Security Assessment” (Dowd, McDonald, Schuh): “This is,
  • hands down, the most comprehensive security assessment book I’ve ever read (and had my eyes bleed at the end). It touches upon everything from gathering requirements for an application audit, reviewing code (and how not to review code), low-level issues to look for (think memory corruption, ASM, etc.), Web app vulns, Unix and Windows filesystem and process stuff, and, well, just a lot.”
  • “Security Engineering, Second Edition” (Anderson): Ross Anderson is one of the great titans of security, and this book proves it. Topics include things like security models, banking and bookkeeping, DRM, security economics, and, of course, specifics about security in operating systems and applications. Required reading, really.”
  • Lanier combines these two as one choice: “Neuromancer” (Gibson) and “Snow Crash” (Stephenson): “Neuromancer,” what many might call a defining novel for the cyberpunk subculture, is a dystopic tale of where we’re probably headed. “Snow Crash,” on the other hand, is a semi-humorous tale much the same.”
  • “The Tao of Network Security Monitoring” (Bejtlich): “Though some of the choices of software are now *slightly* dated, the principles still apply — and Bejtlich’s NSM model is by-and-large a respected, effective means of intelligently monitoring the security posture and health of a given network: culling data from IDS alerts [signature or pattern matching], network flows and sessions, statistical data, etc. to get a holistic view of intrusions (and even extrusions!).”

For good measure, Lanier throws in two more that aren’t really books, but “should be considered so,” he says:

  • “The Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual” (Herzog; ISECOM): “The OSSTMM is a thorough, well-structured guide for assessing the security of a given organization, including the network, systems, people, processes, and more. I’ve relied on it in the past with great success, and it’s been well-received by my clients that I’ve got something against which they can audit my testing procedure.”
  • “OWASP Testing Guide”: “Short of the OSSTMM, I can’t think of another open guide that’s as meticulous about hitting so many points during a security assessment. The OWASP Testing Guide is the definitive source for how to perform security testing against a web application. Period.”

Security pro: Mari Kirby Nichols, IT security administrator at Portfolio Recovery Associates

  • The Bible
  • “War and Peace”
  • Homer’s “Odyssey”
  • “The Complete Worse Case Scenario Survival Guide”
  • “Lady Chatterly’s Lover”

“Personally,” Nichols says, “I would like the literature over the technical” if trapped on a desert island.

Security pro: Kevin Nixon, owner and senior principal at KMN LLC and security editor at

  • “Multi-Service Field Manual 21-76-1 Survival Evasion and Recovery” (106 Pages) a step-by-step guide on how to survive in a hostile environment. “It’s considered so important by the DOD that a copy of this book is always inside all branches of the military Aviator vests,” Nixon says. “With Knowledge one can survive anything.”
  • “22 Radio and Receiver Projects for the Evil Genius” (264 Pages) by Thomas Petruzzellis, a book that explains how to cannibalize various electronic devices and reassemble them into a shortwave radio. Says Nixon: “I wouldn’t choose to be stranded so I am making a logical and conditional cause for becoming stranded. Most likely some type of mechanical failure caused my stranding.”
  • “Herbal Remedies For Dummies” (348 pages) by Christopher Hobbs. Says Nixon: “I would probably want to know what herbs and plants could help with pain, wounds or coping with depression. If herbal remedies were effective for my grandma who lived to 101 years of age, then why argue with success?”
  • “Crisis Communications” (408 Pages) by Kathleen Fearn-Banks, covers a multitude of case studies on how to communicate effectively in almost any situation, which Nixon says would serve as a resource for ideas that could be altered and used for rescue. “If I don’t panic and have something to keep me thinking of solutions, rescue is feasible.”
  • “Disasters: Mental Health Interventions” (204 Pages, Crisis Management Series) by John D. Weaver. This book contains examples the author experienced while doing disaster event mental health intervention. These examples helped tie down the main concepts of the book as well as provide a clear picture of disaster services. “This is a great book for anyone who wants to volunteer or is in the middle of a disaster situations,” Nixon says. “Coping with the stress and helping anyone else stranded with me to cope promotes a more successful survival.”