Book review: Basic Internet Security by Adam Hyde et.al.
Title: Basic Internet Security
Author: Adam Hyde e.a.
Publisher: Greenhost, Amsterdam
Internet security. The topic seems obvious for journalists, diplomats, activists, bloggers and other people whose occupation or hobby might make them interesting targets for hackers and others tracking their data. But, as the authors of Basic Internet Security point out right away, regular Internet users – most of us – need to worry about their security, too. The book does a pretty good job in making it seem the most trivial thing in the world to be threatened – just like it presents taking security measures as being easier than baking an egg.
Basic Internet Security is a manual. A hosting company was teaching a few journalists working for a Dutch NGO about basic Internet security, it became clear most people still need to learn about the topic, and the idea was made to write a free book about it. Free as in “free beer”, but also as in “free speech”: the authors acknowledge that any writing about the Internet is outdated before it is published, so they ask the reader to contribute on the website, or get in touch in a different way, when they find an aspect in need of revision (Hyde e.a. 2011, p.8). Moreover, they encourage the reader to spread and use the text as widely as possible, by publishing it under copyleft GPLv2, implicitly (and explicitly, in the colofon) asking the reader to pass it on (or download it, for that matter).
The guide is for anyone using the Internet, so the authors start the book by showing why you are in danger, and if you are part of the group that has to be more careful than others. But after this short introduction you need to think for yourself and take a look at the table of contents: you might want to look at topics such as Safe Browsing, Basic E-Mail Security,, and Protecting Your Passwords, but what’s the use of knowing all about e-mail encryption? And why would you want to know how to set up a VPN account?
Luckely, the book is full of images like this one, accompanying the short introductions that explain what a particular (sub)topic is all about. I found it surprising to find that even the most obscure and complex sounding safety measures were actually not that far from my bed, even though I am no war journalist travelling through heavily surveilled countries. I learned about the why and how of encrypted e-mail in no more than ten minutes – even though I also learned that it’s too unpractical for everyday use.
Following these short introductions, all chapters continue with some step-by-step installation and configuration explanations, one per operating system (OS) (Windows, Mac OS and Ubuntu are covered). Free, open and/or build-in software choices provide you as a reader with the lowest possible threshold to directly apply the solutions the authors thought of. And, beside the examples explained step-by-step, the authors offer suggestions for additional software and further reading per chapter.
An example. First, the book explains the threats of using any browser. They present using Firefox as the only solution, really. Further on in the book, they explain where to get which Firefox add-ons, arming the basic version of the browser with more security weapons. Acknowledging that more security might also mean less user convenience, they let you choose what to take from their advice and what to just leave for what it is.
The only aspect of the book that might bother some readers is the explicit preference of the authors of Mozilla software. The claim that other software (especially browsers and e-mail programs built into OSs) remains neither proven nor cited, so the reader just has to take their suspicion for granted. But, on the other hand, this inconvenience is made up for by the many advantages I mentioned earlier.
Basic Internet Security successfully aims at two things – the book points out that anybody involved in some kind of Internet activity should be concerned with at least some security measures, while keeping it easy and simple for both the beginners and the slightly more advanced. A hands-on must-read for everybody doing stuff online.
Also posted on my blog.