Beating the hacker

This book review is a little funny, as I have read the book in Estonian a while ago, and yet I cannot find its English equivalent, as the english summaries or what seems to be the same book do not speak of the same topic. It’s a book written by Robert Schifreen, titled “Kuidas Võita Häkkerit” with the Eestonian publication in 2010. I supect the original book by him is “Defeating the Hacker: A non-technical guide to computer security”, that came out in 2006.

Robert Schifreen is an ex-hacker, and one could say the first famous hackers, at least the definitely thinks of himself that way. This is also how he begins the book, he makes sure to tell you that he was a bad guy hacker and stood trial. He was in fact the first hacker ever to stand trial. He then assures you that he will teach you., a non tech-savvy person, how to protect your computer from hackers.

I read this book five years ago, and I knew nothing about computers. The first impression I had had however, was “this guy is a fraud”. This is of course incorrect, but it is the impression this book left me.

After reassuring you that he will teach you how to stay safe from hackers, Schifreen tells you how hackers in general come to be and what type of preaprations they make before an attack. However, it did feel like these explanations were valid for 1985, not 2015. He followed by a long legal jargon about laws concerning hackers and about us, users ourselves, and gave some overview about the policies regarding the security of our information online.

By this point, I was only a few chapters in and bored to death. However, he then picked up with more interseting topics: passwords. Except, nothing besides the obvious came out of it: “do not resue passwords or write them down” type of stuff. Lame!

I then remember skipping a lot of chapters because contrary to what he said in the beginning, they were pretty technical, some software and windows related stuff, however things got interesting when he moved to networking.

I was a victim of spam back at the day, because I thought it was cool putting my email in all forms, and Schifreen did an excellent job at covering the flaws in emails, I learnt POP and IMAP there, and spam. Not only this, but he talked about the concept of opening malicious emails containing viruses and spyware, whcih was captivating and informative. By that point, it felt more modern day than the pre 2000s jargon the first chapters were about.

As he talked about files he made the logical connection to all kinds of file-related issues, such as backups and eventually even cryptography, however it was all very slow paced and while it wasn’t too technical as he promised, it wasn’t really informative either. At that point, I gave up on the book.

While I realise my review is not the most ocmprehensive one, and I was indeed late to the game in 2015 if the book was originally published in 2006, that was the book that got me into computers, and security. So no, I cannot recommend this book to anyone, as I thought that the casual style Schifreen tried to write it in was a flop. Guess being good with a keyboard doesn’t make one a good writer.

The development was slow, the contents either too technical or purely word-foam to fill pages, the book had no balance. While I have to say that the structure and build-up was well executed, it seems like Schifreen has a trouble sizing up his target audience, and deciding for himself if he still lives in his hacker days, or in the modern world.