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Home > Reviews > Cyberphobia

Cyberphobia

Author Edward Lucas

ISBN No 9781-40885-0152

Review date 16/06/2019

No of pages 306

Publisher Bloomsbury

Publisher URL http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/cyberphobia-9781408850152/

Year of publication 29/07/2016

Brief

Edward Lucas. Published 2016 by Bloomsbury, paperback, 336 pages, ISBN 9781-40885-0152, ebook priced £9.99. Visit www.bloomsbury.com.

Our Review

price

£ 8.99 - online

If you read The Economist you know what to look forward to from Edward Lucas’ book Cyberphobia, because he is a senior editor at The Economist. You can expect fine writing, a grasp of the subject, and knowledge that will enable you, the liberally-minded reader, to make good decisions in the world. And that’s what you duly get in this book, fully titled Cyberphobia: Identity, Trust, Security and the Internet.

Visit http://www.edwardlucas.com/.

You might be put off by anything to do with computers as too dry or hard to understand. That would be a pity, for one thing, because Lucas has so much to say to the security person; about physical and online security, for example the chapter on passwords (’the weakest of links’).

For another thing, you shouldn’t be put off by a ‘cyber’ book, because in the opening chapter (’Meet the Hakhetts’) Lucas shows us a fictional couple (Chip and Pin) and how their online complacency leaves them open to scams and losses. Lucas points out that ‘the easiest way to install malicious programs on other people’s computers is to get them to do it themselves’ (and here Lucas admits that includes his daughter. In other words, no end of encryption and IT security will save you if you click on something you shouldn’t. In one of many neat analogies with the physical world, Lucas points out that a child entering a sweetshop can be reasonably sure that the produce inside is safe; not so on a computer.

In the preface Lucas sets out how inside 20 years ‘the internet has become the stage of modern life’, and it’ll become even more important, ‘as it moves from being a means of connecting people to one that connects things’, whether factory machines, retailers’ tills and warehouses, the things in our home. Again to return to a theme of The Economist and its staff, in the physical world we have evolved and been educated to know what we are doing, to know the risks of doing business and living in the real world: “Once we venture online, all that vanishes.” Lucas duly goes on to write about the internet world’s keys, and locks. He admits that people are put off by ‘needlessly complicated technical language’. The central message of Lucas’ book, to quote him in typically pithy non-technical words, ‘is that our dependence on computers is growing faster than our ability to forestall attackers’, whether they are hackers (like the anonymous ones that very publicly penetrated Sony Pictures in 2014) or criminals or ‘hostile foreign powers’ - and whereas many in authority dare not or for whatever reason will not spell out which countries are doing cyber-espionage, Lucas points to ‘the extraordinary new criminal mercantilism being practised by China, in which the theft of intellectual property from foreign competitors is part of state-owned enterprises’ research and development strategy’.

As that suggests, cyber is more than something for the tech guys; it affects us all, whether the internet breaks down altogether, or we lose privacy, or our money in our credit card accounts. The Edward Snowden revelations have made us paranoid, which is not an advance on naive. To pass on Lucas’ final three points, ‘which may help us avert the gloomy prospects of a broken internet and rampant crime’. Going carelessly onto the internet makes you a menace to yourself and others - take elementary precautions (and Lucas recommends the official UK CPNI guidance, that he ably sums up in three pages). We need to be more cautious about our use of ‘free’ services such as Google email or Facebook (you’re not the customer; you’re the product, Lucas rather chillingly and bluntly puts it). And what Lucas calls ‘strong digital identities’ are friends and not foes (he praises the Estonian ID card, which for usefulness he likens to American Express).

To sum up, an outstanding book with a sense of the past and grasp of the present, and a call to action for the (very near) future.