First Review of A Hacker’s Mind

Kirkus reviews A Hacker’s Mind:

A cybersecurity expert examines how the powerful game whatever system is put before them, leaving it to others to cover the cost.

Schneier, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and author of such books as Data and Goliath and Click Here To Kill Everybody, regularly challenges his students to write down the first 100 digits of pi, a nearly impossible task­—but not if they cheat, concerning which he admonishes, “Don’t get caught.” Not getting caught is the aim of the hackers who exploit the vulnerabilities of systems of all kinds. Consider right-wing venture capitalist Peter Thiel, who located a hack in the tax code: “Because he was one of the founders of PayPal, he was able to use a $2,000 investment to buy 1.7 million shares of the company at $0.001 per share, turning it into $5 billion—all forever tax free.” It was perfectly legal—and even if it weren’t, the wealthy usually go unpunished. The author, a fluid writer and tech communicator, reveals how the tax code lends itself to hacking, as when tech companies like Apple and Google avoid paying billions of dollars by transferring profits out of the U.S. to corporate-friendly nations such as Ireland, then offshoring the “disappeared” dollars to Bermuda, the Caymans, and other havens. Every system contains trap doors that can be breached to advantage. For example, Schneier cites “the Pudding Guy,” who hacked an airline miles program by buying low-cost pudding cups in a promotion that, for $3,150, netted him 1.2 million miles and “lifetime Gold frequent flier status.” Since it was all within the letter if not the spirit of the offer, “the company paid up.” The companies often do, because they’re gaming systems themselves. “Any rule can be hacked,” notes the author, be it a religious dietary restriction or a legislative procedure. With technology, “we can hack more, faster, better,” requiring diligent monitoring and a demand that everyone play by rules that have been hardened against tampering.

An eye-opening, maddening book that offers hope for leveling a badly tilted playing field.

I got a starred review. Libraries make decisions on what to buy based on starred reviews. Publications make decisions about what to review based on starred reviews. This is a big deal.

Book’s webpage.

Posted on November 18, 2022 at 1:08 PM28 Comments

Comments

M Ward November 18, 2022 2:55 PM

A cybersecurity expert examines how the powerful game whatever system is put before them, …

There is something wrong with this sentence. It makes no sense to me, anyway.

Michael Gaul November 18, 2022 3:17 PM

M Ward: Yes, I see the problem: “Powerful” is the noun and “game” is the verb. Fruit flies like a banana.

Doug Deden November 18, 2022 3:21 PM

@M Ward:

It’s a flavor of a Garden Path Sentence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden-path_sentence

In this case, the first reading of it is that “powerful” is an adjective modifying the noun “game”. But that makes the rest of the sentence nonsensical.

The interpretation that allows it to make sense is that “the powerful” is a group of people. They are “gaming”, or manipulating, the systems that they encounter. And Bruce is examining how they do that.

“Powerful”, while usually an adjective, is a noun in this case. And “game”, while usually a noun, is a verb in this case. Put those two less-common uses together, and confusion ensues.

A better phrasing could be: “A cybersecurity expert examines how skillful people manipulate whatever system is put before them, leaving it to others to cover the cost.” That breaks the adjective-noun confusion.

…doug

B.J. Herbison November 18, 2022 3:33 PM

I got a starred review. Libraries make decisions on …

Are you saying you are trying to hack the book sales process?

higgs boson November 18, 2022 3:38 PM

Wondering about this:

The author, a fluid writer and tech communicator

I think maybe the reviewer meant “fluent”.

SeattleSipper November 18, 2022 3:42 PM

Already #1 seller in “Security & Encryption” at Large On-Line Seller (LOLS?) and still in pre-order. Available in Kindle or hardcover for delivery/download on 7 Feb 2023. We now return you to our regularly scheduled debate.

lurker November 18, 2022 3:47 PM

@M Ward

Let me guess, you are not a native of the western hemisphere? It took me a while to parse that sentence too. The English and the Americans are divided by a common language.

lurker November 18, 2022 3:58 PM

@higgs boson

Fluent is often used to describe speech (especially in non-native languages), and fluid is frequently used to describe writing style.

However Oxford English Dictionary gives:
fluid /ˈfluːɪd /
. . .
▸ adjective
1 . . .
▪ not settled or stable; likely or able to change:

Clive Robinson November 18, 2022 4:47 PM

@ M Ward,

Ever play a game of,

“hunt the invisable comma?

English is a lazy language which makes it easy for non native speakers to learn, but for native speakers of English it makes learning other more rigid / structured languages much harder than it could be[1].

So sometimes puting a breathing pause in to break a sentance up can help.

You see,

“A cybersecurity expert examines how the powerful game whatever system is put before them”

And your brain runs “the powerful game” and makes the wrong guess at meaning.

However if instead,

“A cybersecurity expert examines how the powerful, game whatever system is put before them”

You see the comma and pause and immediately your brain see things differently.

There is a continued debate about the humble comma and how it’s used and thus what meaning is to be had from the text that surounds it.

Law professors talk about “the hanging comma” amoungst other commas.

But worse psycopathic lawyers who tred the halls of power, have changed the meanings of documents to favour actions, that it’s reasonable to assume the drafters, authors, and signatories never ment.

Hence security services avail themselves of powers and methods they realy should not. And so we spy, tourture, maim, and kill, calling it “legal” rather than “against the constitution” etc.

[1] Look at it, as you might,

“Thin people who run every where, find walking easy, but fat people who walk every where, find running hard.

Clive Robinson November 18, 2022 4:58 PM

@ ALL,

With regards,

“Any rule can be hacked,” notes the author, be it a religious dietary restriction or a legislative procedure.”

Brings to mind for Catholics the age old question of,

“Is beaver a fish?”

Because if it is then friday lunch just became a lot better than,

“Carp fed on cattle crap”

For the rest of us eating beaver on a friday is generally not a question needing of philosophical debate.

Clive Robinson November 18, 2022 5:07 PM

@ ALL,

Re : Word games,

“An eye-opening, maddening book that offers hope for leveling a badly tilted playing field.”

Where be the Windmills or lists…

There is yet more fun to be had with that review, I wonder if the author was aware?..

Canis familiaris November 18, 2022 6:02 PM

@Michael Gaul

@M Ward Yes, I see the problem: “Powerful” is the noun and “game” is the verb. Fruit flies like a banana.

…and time flies like an arrow.

SpaceLifeForm November 18, 2022 11:34 PM

@ higgs boson, lurker

re: The author, a fluid writer and tech communicator

Bruce uses a quill pen for security reasons.

R. Cake November 21, 2022 4:20 AM

@lurker, the first time I saw “the western hemisphere” mentioned somewhere I thought it was intended as a joke, but it probably really isn’t, huh?
Please picture a globe – I mean like the one that someone might have had on a shelf in their study in the old days before google maps was a thing – I say, picture a globe and will you now please show me how what the boundaries of the “western” hemisphere could possibly be? West of what might that western hemisphere lie?
And just in case anyone was wondering, yes, “hemisphere” literally means “half globe”.
No need to reply to this, though, just intended as food for thought. Have a great day!

Winter November 21, 2022 6:54 AM

@R Cake

West of what might that western hemisphere lie?.

This was a Eurocentric concept. It is the hemisphere dominated by Europeans and their descendents. Basically, west of the Urals or Iron Curtain, whatever you fancy.

You can interpret it geographically, culturally, historically, or politically. Whatever you like.

JonKnowsNothing November 21, 2022 7:51 AM

@Winter, @R Cake, All

re:

R: West of what might that western hemisphere lie?.

W: This was a Eurocentric concept. It is the hemisphere dominated by Europeans and their descendents. Basically, west of the Urals or Iron Curtain, whatever you fancy.

You can interpret it geographically, culturally, historically, or politically. Whatever you like.

Additionally, East from USA view comprises pretty much all countries along the Pacific Ocean westward from the USA side of the Pacific. That section continues until it meets up with some demarcation lines in Europe aka The West. Those lines are fluid and move with political alliances. Includes Japan, China, Koreas, the Philippines, etc. moving towards the Balkans and Russia.

By modern views, Russia is a tough placement: East or West. Depending on the rhetoric and political stance of the day it can go in either camp. Historically Russia has had longer ties with China than with European countries. (1)

There are also historical ties by other countries in the same geo-band, by trade or war with The East. Anything that was part of the Ottoman Empire is generally considered East.

It makes for odd coupling of economic and political alignments, mixing and categorizing various cultures as West or East.

When the USA wants a favorable stance with a country having these mixed designations, they are called West, when they want public propaganda umbrage they are called East. The countries so labeled didn’t change anything at all about their location on the globe.

===

1) See Peter the Great / Peter I 1672-1725

Clive Robinson November 21, 2022 9:45 AM

@ R.Cake, JonKnowsNothing, Winter, ALL,

Re : Hemispheres.

Fundementally It’s a three dimensional object projection from a point source issue.

If you assume a unit measurment, in one dimension you get a line with a length and one degree of freedom to move back or forth along the line. Arbitarily we call the movments left or right if we see the line as horizontal, or up and down if we see the line as vertical. With this we get an implied refrence point usually at one end of the line or at an arbitary point along it as a base or zero refrence.

In two dimensions you get a unit circle that has area and a center, it however has a circumferance which can be viewed as a line with no start or end point. So there is no way to say where you are on the circumferance of the circle except by making a refrence point as your base or zero refrence. The selection of this point is again arbitary. When you draw a line from this point through the center you have to half circles if the line is vertical one is left one is right, if vertical top or bottom. Important to note that the circle can rotate around the center and without a refrence of some kind it would not be possible for a distant observer to measure / see the rotation. That is implicitly there is information hidden from the observer.

The same logic applies to three dimensions. However this gives you an extra degree of freedom and a more fun point of the center line can be the centrum of rotation. Thus for an observer on the sphere we do now have two identifiable points of refrence one at either point the center line bisects the surface of the sphere. The problem is identifing which is which. One way is to say you stand above the point and observe the direction of rotation or spin. This “symmetry” with a difference in only one dimension is a very very common in both geometry and physics. It’s also important because it alows dimensions to be removed from consideration (compaction) without causing a change in what a distant observer can measure / see, as such it also alows simplification of the maths involved.

The important point to note, is that as a general rule the arbitary point is picked to make simplification possible. BUT always it will have atleast one arbitary aspect.

On the Earth the north and south hemispheres are decided by the equator which is a plane through the center that is “normal” or “orthagonal” to the rotation.

But where on the equator do you decide to make the refrence point as it is still –mostly– quite arbitary. Well the answer has not been logic, reason, science, or mathmatics… No it’s been by “ego of hierarchy” pretending to be ordained by deity or just “might is right”…

Fun fact, I used to sleep in both the East and West hemispheres every night, as the property I was staying in at the time straddled the Greenwich Meridian (of which there are now three of relevance thanks to GPS).

MarkH November 21, 2022 10:27 AM

In a literal sense, the Western Hemisphere was defined when astronomer George Airy declared that zero longitude ran through the center of his transit circle instrument, at the royal observatory in suburban London. How convenient!

Clive Robinson November 21, 2022 11:46 AM

@ MarkH,

“when astronomer George Airy declared that zero longitude ran through the center of his transit circle instrument”

He had his reasons, and they were mainly not his own.

The Royal Observatory being located at Greenwich was selected for a number of reasons. Firstly the landscape, secondly it was a Royal Hunting Park close to but not to close to the Lights and smoke of London but importantly easily visable from the Royal Docks at Deptford and the moorings at Greenwich reach.

Thus it was the center of Englands Navy, and the Admiralty that also had the charts and tables made by the Royal Observer.

England being by law at that time still “an anti-papist” nation the other two meridians of the Pope and of the Jesuits would have been illegal.

As for the two dozen or so American meridians all running through State Capitols and similar. These were for land swindeling reasons –especially in Ohio–, so not a good reason to use any of them.

But worse George Airy lived through the 1812 war that forged the Nation of Canada. The result of which the English had chased the impudent US effetes back south and their President to run away as fast as he could and hide in a swamp leaving his wife, family and servents to an unknown fate, but as long as he was safe… So there was no way he would have suggested or been alowed to use one of those meridians.

In short traditionns start for odd reasons and like the proverbial snow ball they gather both mass and inertia as they progress with time.

The reality is it was not his choice, it was just convenient to reafirm what was in England de facto.

[1] https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/sir-george-biddell-airy

[2] US Principle meridians,

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_principal_and_guide_meridians_and_base_lines_of_the_United_States

[3] A somewhat “one sided” view of the reasons for and outcome of the 1812 war.

https://www.history.com/topics/war-of-1812/war-of-1812

It does not mention that the “impresment” of sailors was for those of British origin many of whom were actually deserters who quite rightly could have been hanged… Also the unlawfull detention of British citizens.

But importantly it fails to make clear the real reason it happened. The British were fighting Napolean in a bitter fight to liberate europe from his clutches. Many in US politics intent on a massive land grab saw it as an opportunity to steal what was not theirs and impose their writ on those who did not want it. The reason for so many living outside of the US was that they had migrated out of the US and what they saw as it’s tyranny. So those “proud US troops” not drunkenly killed, raped and burned their way through their close relatives homes…

Winter November 21, 2022 12:02 PM

@Clive, MarkH

He had his reasons, and they were mainly not his own.

The French used Paris for their Null meridian.

At the time, the geographical length was determined by your clock, i.e., the time local celestial phenomena took place relative to when they took place at the Null meridian.

At 1 pm precise, every day, a time ball installed at the roof of the observatory would drop. The time was synchronized with astronomical observations at noon. Ships leaving London could synchronize their clocks to the time ball and get a precise reading how many degrees they were away from Greenwich.

It is the Null Meridian because that makes calculations a lot easier.

lurker November 21, 2022 12:28 PM

Western Hemisphere,

yes, as @Winter suggests is a Eurocentric concept, but I had always taken the old meaning as defined by Pope Alexander VI in the Treaty of Tordesillas, nearly 400 years before George Airy, ie. the Americas are West (Spanish), the rest of the world East (Portuguese). The dividing line obviously could not be the Greenwich, or Paris, or any other European Prime Meridian, so was set at 370 leagues west of Cape Verde, resulting in the anomaly of a Portuguese Brazil in the Americas, and a Spanish Phillipines in the Orient.

Clive Robinson November 21, 2022 1:33 PM

@ lurker,

Re : Popish plot.

“… defined by Pope Alexander VI in the Treaty of Tordesillas, nearly 400 years before George Airy, ie. the Americas are West (Spanish), the rest of the world East (Portuguese).”

The idea being to stop two Roman Catholic countries going to war, thus stop their active defilment of the rest of the world for Paple Advantage…

You will note that both Spain and Portugease became fat and lazy on their adventuring, so the rest of the world took away their riches by way of selling them what they were at first to lazy, then to uneducated to make…

A lesson from history that South Americans realy realy should wake upto, likewise the Russian peoples and many Middle eastern nations citizens.

Sustainable wealth comes from participating in “value added trade”. The selling out of raw resources, is generally short lived and benifits only crooks and opportunists that do immesurable harm then desert for other places in the dead of night etc.

MarkH November 21, 2022 4:23 PM

The oldest broad West/East division I can think of in European culture is occident/orient in the Roman empire, from the Latin words occidere and oriri meaning respectively to set and to rise; they were referred to the Sun’s apparent motion through the sky.

Because Romans considered the Mediterranean (literally, center of the Earth) Sea to be theirs — they like to call it mare nostrum, “our sea” — I suppose that to them Orient meant the lands east of the Mediterranean, which in modern times were labeled Near East or Middle East (also very viewpoint-specific).

Perhaps more relevant to post-medieval history is the division between Roman (Italian) and Orthodox (Greek) churches. Although not defined in geographic terms, as the history played out the boundary roughly coincides with the Balkan mountains.

As an acute example, Croats and Serbs speak the same language (with small variants of dialect) … but Croats are overwhelmingly Catholic, and write their language using the Latin alphabet, as most European countries do; Serbs are overwhelmingly Orthodox, and write their language using the Cyrillic alphabet, which originated in Bulgaria and spread to other lands with Orthodox Slav populations.

MarkH November 21, 2022 4:24 PM

continued:

Europeans are, of course, the world’s leading Eurocentrists! But they hold no monopoly on viewpoint narcissism.

Japan’s name literally derives from “land of the rising sun,” which only makes literal sense if you are in … China, from which the name derives.

The late great George Carlin observed that to a highway driver, “idiot” means any driver traveling slower than your vehicle, and “maniac” means any driver traveling faster.

Humdee November 25, 2022 1:59 PM

Disappointed in everyone. First thing I did was to check and see if the book was The Pirate Bay. Nope.

Fine set of hackers you all are.

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