Book Review: “Cyber Smart”

Cyber Canon Book Review: “Cyber Smart: Five Habits to Protect Your Family, Money from Cyber Criminals” by Bart McDonough (published Dec. 5,  2018)

Book Reviewed by: Paul W. Smith, NetworkDataPedia, April 2019.

Bottom Line: I recommend this book for the Cybersecurity Canon Hall of Fame.

Review:

Each of us has a unique relationship with our possessions – especially stuff like smartphones, tablets, laptops, connected cars and all the sundry members of the Internet of Things (IoT) family. We may see these as a means of making our lives simpler and more comfortable, or perhaps as tangible proof that we are affluent and technologically savvy. Bart McDonough however, author of “Cyber Smart,” treats each as yet another threat to personal privacy, mental well-being and financial security. 

The golden key on this book’s cover conjures thoughts of encryption, security and perhaps some special knowledge that might be valuable. While the Internet can seem intimidating to many, the book’s subtitle, “Five Habits to Protect Your Family, Money and Identity from Cyber Criminals,” hints that there might be a manageable approach to avoiding catastrophe. “Cyber Smartis not about becoming an expert in all things internet, but rather a very readable attempt to raise awareness of the many serious threats that do exist, while offering understandable and actionable ways to make oneself a tougher target.

The two main sections of the book, titled “Setting the Stage” and “Specific Recommendations,” provide the framework for a deep-dive into the variety and extent of the bad things that can happen in the cyber world, followed by a step-by-step process to secure one’s digital life from bad actors. As part of “Setting the Stage,” the author introduces his “Brilliance in the Basics” approach, a forthright discipline for self-protection. A detailed Table of Contents will make it easy to go directly to a particular topic for those who may find themselves operating in crisis mode. The author’s extensive industry experience is aimed at protecting the individual, whereas much of the literature on this topic is for businesses and corporations. 

Many of the mistakes described in the book begin with things that most of us routinely do. It is surprising how a bad actor sitting at home at a keyboard can leverage their computer skills to make a great deal of money or cause enormous disruption. The book purports to be much more than just fear-mongering, although there is a fair amount of that. The good news is that there is hope; just because governments and huge corporations experience data breaches doesn’t mean that the little guy is powerless. If you finish this book and don’t at least implement two-factor authentication, you weren’t paying attention. 

“Cyber Smart” provides some worthwhile insight into bad actors and what motivates them. Most are males, under 34 years of age, and many have full-time jobs but are hacking in their spare time, motivated as much by the challenge as the money. 

Through necessity, “Cyber Smart” uses lots of terminology that may not be familiar to all readers, and as a result, a glossary of terms would have been nice. The notes at the end of each chapter are comprised of URLs, some of which are long and complicated to type in (my review copy was a paper edition – perhaps these are live links in the digital version?). The author actually warns against typing in such long strings, as mistakes can lead to dangerous, bogus websites that often make subtle name changes as a way of trapping their victims. And if you’re looking for the oft-referenced principles labeled “Brilliance in the Basics,” the core of the book’s advice to readers, they don’t show up until Chapter 7. 

Despite these minor issues, “Cyber Smart” is an entertaining read that exposes the Internet as a bad neighborhood where extreme caution is advisable. The author does a lot of foreshadowing of what’s to come in subsequent chapters, but then draws the storylines together for the now-motivated reader. Unless you are a seasoned professional cybersecurity expert, “Cyber Smart” will open your eyes to the Internet’s abundance of risks, and then outline a straightforward action plan for self-defense. 

As the Internet grows and spreads into more areas of our lives, so does the list of cyber-vulnerabilities and their disruptive potential. Few people realize how things they routinely do online can heighten their exposure. The case-history stories that the author tells make it clear that cybersecurity is not just an academic exercise – they help instill a sense of urgency in the reader. The sense of panic in each of the victims is conveyed and then followed with a message of hope that the little guy need not feel powerless. “Cyber Smart” presents a well-balanced combination of cyber threats and smart practices that the non-expert can understand and implement. It’s nearly impossible to read this book without making at least some changes in one’s online life.

We modeled the Cybersecurity Canon after the Baseball or Rock & Roll Hall-of-Fame, except for cybersecurity books. We have more than 25 books on the initial candidate list, but we are soliciting help from the cybersecurity community to increase the number to be much more than that. Please write a review and nominate your favorite. 

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