Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War Audiobook Review

Dark Territory, written by Fred Kaplan and narrated by Malcolm Hillgartner, is a phenomenal book covering the history of information (cyber) warfare.  The book opens with the than United Stated president Ronal Regan watching a recently release movie called “Wargames” and asking his panel of advisors if any of what the movie portrayed was possible or probable.  What is even scarier was the time it took for them to provide the president with an answer to his question, and what he heard was not good.

The book takes you down the often-uncertain path that would come to be called cyber warfare.  This was before there was an Internet or people who cared about security, he world wide web did not exist and few people had personal computers; they were only something big business could afford.  If you enjoy history, security, or just political differences around war and tactics, I believe you will like this book along with its narration.  Not many books in my library get all five stars, however this book is one of the few that does.  As a side note, I am in the information security industry so I enjoy books like this.  I felt the book was excellent and should be a must read for all in (or planning to be in) our industry.  Again, I believe other will enjoy this fascinating ride this book takes you on.

The journey covers mainly from the 1980s to nearly current (~2015).  It was quite scary to see just how vulnerable the United States was to attack on its computer systems, critical infrastructure, and defense industry; even though it was not as prevalent as today.  But, the weakness in our systems were also vulnerabilities that nearly any other first-world nation using technology or automation also had.  I found it interesting that our first though was to use this knowledge for attacking other’s systems for our advantage before first finding ways to defend against it.  You will see just how important the collection of information and our ability to know the battle plans of the Iraq forces was.  The author speaks about the various weaknesses discovered in SCADA/ICS system, even to the point of remotely destroying equipment; and in some cases, this was done from the other side of the globe.

I thought the authors ability to bring to bear not only the technology of Information warfare, but the political struggles and difficulties it too to get people onboard that this was a good idea to leverage this new digital world to our advantage.  We are given some details on the first worm, intrusion detection system (IDS) creation, all the way up to new technology released in the Snowden documents.  Information became power in both war and peace, so the one who had the most could use it to their benefit.  Once this newly acquired power was realized, it was very difficult to put the gene back in the bottle.  The author covers the many issues and technologies used to collect data on its own US citizens, when it was only to be used for monitoring foreigners with in our boarders.  None of this it lightly covered, you can tell the author did his research and understands his subject matter very well.

I really enjoyed that the book’s name, Dark Territory, comes from what the railroad industry classifies sections of uncontrolled track; lacking signaling systems.  These portions of track had to be managed by manual scheduling ensuring no other traffic was on when another train was already using it.  With the latest communications systems, these wild west sections of track are no longer dangerous.  This is why I believe the author intended to use this term, because the Internet had been, and still continues to be, a traffic flow that often lacks the necessary security (signaling) controls to prevent a disastrous outcome.

Malcolm Hillgartner takes what could seem like dry and boring details and brings it to life by way of his narration.  He is no novice when it comes to narrated works on Audible.  At the time of this review, he has over 160 voiced titles.  I enjoyed his narration of “Reamde”, a piece of fiction written by Neal Stephenson.  I have two other books in my library pending by Mr. Hillgartner, and I’m sure these will not be my last of his works.  The audio was clean and without any noticeable audio artifacts.  Both the narration and book’s material were professionally done.

In summary, if you are in the information security field or have an interest in it, this book is a must read.  If you enjoy well-written historic books that are researched and well told, this book is a must.  For all other, I believe no matter your likes, you will find something in this book that will surprise and amaze you.  I like that the book was concise with all the audio taking up less than 10hours, yet I did not feel cheated out of a credit when it was completed.  I would have enjoyed much more if it were there, but maybe that will come in a future second book covering the more recent and exciting event in the industry.  As you may be able to tell, I liked this book very much.

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