Book Review: Wireless Security and Privacy: Best Practices and Design Techniques

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Good for an overview of wireless computing, but not the place to learn the details.

Title: Wireless Security and Privacy: Best Practices and Design TechniquesAuthor: Tara M. Swaminatha and Charles R. EldenPublisher: Addison-WesleyISBN: 0-201-76034-7Price: $39.99 USD

Security and Privacy: Best Practices and Design Techniques covers a potpourri of topics dealing with wireless computing. A number of devices that use wireless networking are discussed, ranging from Blackberries and PDAs to mobile phones and laptops. All of this is a lot to cover in 270 pages. I personally have experience with 802.11b networking (and need to learn more about security on my home LAN), and this book is not meant to fill that need.

Spread throughout the text are a number of references, primarily web sites, to go to for more information. These references are useful because the book covers a lot of ground. The bibliography also is thorough, and it would be helpful to place it on the publisher's web site as hypertext; the index and table of contents already are on-line.

The book is divided into four parts: "Establish a Foundation", "Know Your System", "Protect Your System" and "I-ADD". I-ADD is an acronym the authors developed to explain "how I add security to a system". It stands for identify targets, analyze attacks, define a strategy and design security in from the start.

Part I provides an introduction to the topic and defines terms, such as usability, authentication, access control and authorization and so forth. After defining the lingo, the authors' state, "Before continuing, you should have a good understanding of the principles of security, development and management" (p. 34). There is a big difference between a definition of a term and a good understanding of it. The introduction does, however, establish a working vocabulary for the wireless (and networked) field.

Part II, "Know Your System," includes chapters titled "Technologies", "Devices" and "Languages". "Technologies" discusses 802.11b, bluetooth and WAP. For each one, an overview of the architecture and physical layer is offered, and a brief introduction to security for each is presented. I previously knew bluetooth as a buzzword, this helped me gain a better understanding of it as a concept.

"Devices" covers a number of PDAs (generic, pocket PC, Palm) as well as Blackberries. The author discusses how Blackberries have a closed architecture, writing "there are advantages and disadvantages to having a closed architecture.... The security weaknesses are not easy to discover and, theoretically, less likely to be exploited." I have an issue with someone who advocates potential benefits of "security by obscurity". It all works okay until someone posts the exploit on the Web.

"Languages" includes sections on WML (wireless mark-up language) and WMLScript. The section on Java discusses its various versions, zeroing in on J2ME, Java 2 Micro Edition.

Part III covers more technical meat. It includes a chapter on cryptography that I found useful; I'm not an expert on encryption. I liked the advice to "Never roll your own cryptography" (p. 123). One glaring error can be seen in a diagram for Triple-DES, although the text has it right--the second block is decryption, not encryption.

The next chapter is titled "COTS", for commercial off-the-shelf products, and two pages are spent discussing COTS versus custom software. No mention is made of freeware/open-source technologies, nor the security benefits of having an open development model. Then it discusses VPNs, tunneling, the seven-layer OSI model, point-to-point tunneling (PPTP) and biometric authentication. I'm not sure what this had to do with COTS, except they are products you could buy.

I found the chapter on privacy to be excellent, discussing such topics as Carnivore (now DCS1000), the E-911 initiative and GPS in cell phones and other devices. An amusing anecdote is presented about a person who rented a car and had his account docked $450, because the hidden transmitter caught him speeding.

Part IV I could have done without. It is pages of bulleted, repetitive text about potential security compromises malicious or incompetent personnel can cause at various stages, if they handle your devices and data. The malicious developer who inserts Trojan Horses is mentioned in a number of places, but the book never mentions the most common security breach--social engineering.

If you have a need to understand a number of wireless devices, this is a useful book. I'm not sure, however, if this book is the place to learn "Best Practices and Design Techniques". I don't think I did. If you want to have a high level view of computer security risks, I recommend Bruce Schneier's Secrets and Lies. I still need to read Gast's 802.11 Wireless Networks to get a better understanding of my 802.11 network. Overall, I would have preferred if Wireless Security and Privacy skipped the last section and expanded the first three.

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