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Title: Computer Crime: A Crimefighter's Handbook
Authors: David Icove, Karl Seger, and William VonStorch
Publisher: O'Reilly
Copyright: 1995
ISBN: 1-56592-086- 4
Pages: 437
Price: $24.95
Rating: 83%
Computer Crime: A Crimefighter's Handbook is a collaborative effort from David Icove, Karl Seger and William VonStorch. The authors, who derived Computer Crime from a Federal Bureau of Investigation training manual, bring an impressive array of security and behavioral analysis credentials to the plate. The team, which included assistance from Consulting Editor Eugene Spafford of Purdue University, has produced a valuable work.

If you're looking for directions on setting up firewalls and monitoring processes, look elsewhere. This book is intended as an introduction to computer crime for those who need to deal with it first hand. As the authors state in the preface, Computer Crime will neither make investigators expert computer users nor computer users expert investigators; what the book does do quite well is outline how to approach computer security, define vulnerabilities, and profile potential attackers.

The authors' first order of business is to present the threat environment. To that end, the first four chapters describe the risks to computer systems, list attacks which might occur, profile potential perpetrators, and overview applicable laws as of the book's August 1995 publication date. While significant legislative changes have occurred since then, the section gives readers a good feel for reading and interpreting present and future computer crime-related statutes. Later sections examine specific security measures (including communications and personnel security), prosecuting assailants, and damage control. The book concludes with several informative appendices offering advice on getting warrants for and conducting computer-related searches, treating a computer as evidence, and accessing security-related resources.

This book has a number of outstanding characteristics. First, rather than recommend a specific set of preventive measures and responses, Computer Crime allows for a range of corporate security needs. The authors recognize that some companies can get by with little more than a lock on the door and hard to guess root passwords, while others need multi-tiered physical security, monitoring, and background investigations. Second, the text is peppered with admonitions against taking more extreme security measures than are required by your threat environment. The authors frequently mention the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) and underline its importance as a legal protection of users' constitutional rights. Finally, the book very realistically considers natural disasters, including fires, earthquakes, and floods, as threats to computer security. Even though the authors motivate the computer security question with the familiar tale of Kevin Mitnick, that story and the book in general avoid the sensationalistic coverage too often found in the popular media.

I do have some minor quibbles with the book. Despite a fine editing job, the transformation of the book from a law enforcement training guide to a general purpose text wasn't quite completed. There are a few occasions when the reader is addressed as "you" and assumed to be either a security manager or a law enforcement official. While these discrepancies are few, they are jarring when they occur. Also, including almost 150 pages of often-changing regulations seems a bit much, though a World Wide Web site updating the relevant statutes would fix the problem.

Despite those shortcomings, Computer Crime is a valuable book for system administrators, other individuals charged with protecting system security, and law enforcement officials. The framework provided in the first 200 pages will never go out of date.

Curtis D. Frye (  is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews.  He worked for four years as a defense industry analyst at The MITRE Corporation in McLean, VA, and is the author of Privacy-Enhanced Business, from Quorum Books.