Book review: Stalked by Revenge by Lynn Lipinski

Stalked by Revenge (Zane Clearwater Mystery Book 3) by [Lynn Lipinski]This is the third book in a series of mystery novels featuring Zane Clearwater, a character who has had a shady past. It can be read independently of the others and there is a fourth is in the works. The story centers on Clearwater’s family, including a gun-packing grandmother and a private detective who comes to the aid of the family to stop a revengeful assailant who starts out in prison at the story’s beginning. Lipinski’s descriptive prose is first-rate, and the various characters are well drawn, with some very realistic challenges in their lives. By the end of the book you will feel that you know them and have a lot of empathy for their circumstances. Fans of mystery novels will enjoy this book, and I highly recommend it.

Buy it from Amazon here.

Book review: A Likely Story by Leigh McMullan Abramson

A Likely Story: A Novel by [Leigh McMullan Abramson]I really enjoyed this new novel which has characters and a plot line I found appealing, as a full time freelance writer for many decades.

The story is about a famous novelist and his ne’er-do-well daughter who is in her mid 30s, trying to figure out her life and try to finish her first book, which seems to have been started ages ago. It is set against the death of her mom, and interwoven we are privy to the draft of a novel (which plays an important role in the character’s lives without giving away any spoilers). The description of literary life in NYC and all its trappings and ridiculousness resonated with me, as do the challenges of 30-somethings.

The novel concerns the relationship of the famous writer to his wife and daughter, how the three of them collaborated on various projects, and the perception of the dad towards his family members. That is about all I can say in this review, but it is deliciously wicked, real, and poignant. Being related to the writer and enduring his oversize ego drives many of the plot points along. At one point the daughter feels that “writing was like being on a submarine, where she spent years being submerged, silent and secret, working toward the day where she would have something to show for all her time underwater.” The novel is interesting, amusing, and thoughtful and I highly recommend it.

Book review: All That Is Mine I Carry With Me

This novel by William Landay has plot points that approach numerous other thrillers — such as the missing title character in Gone Girl — but takes things just a bit further in telling the tale of a missing mom who is presumed killed by her husband. You hear from various family members in the first person, but again it is done to introduce some interesting plot twists that I don’t want to spoil you with here. Initially I was a bit annoyed by the mixed narrator style but came to appreciate it about halfway through the novel. The narrative arc covers decades as we move way beyond the actual missing/murder conundrum and into the finer aspects of the children and other family members’ personalities, relationships, and whether they think the dad did the deed or not. Having the dad as a criminal defense lawyer is also a nice touch too!. Highly recommended.

Book review: Who Will Accompany You by Meg Stafford

Who Will Accompany You?: My Mother-Daughter Journeys Far from Home and Close to the Heart

This book is the work of a mother’s separate travels with her two daughters: one visits Nepal and Bhutan, the other to Colombia. The two kids take the trips for specific reasons: to learn about total happiness and to work for an NGO that is helping with war-torn conflicts. The travels are enlightening for all parties concerned and are what Meg Stafford — who has written a regular column for years — says is an ongoing kaleidoscope of learning together with her daughters. She is a therapist, so her work listening and analyzing people comes through quite loudly in this memoir.

The travels aren’t your usual tourist romps through colorful foreign lands, but offer real insights into both the people they encounter along the way and the lessons they have learned about themselves and their own family relationships. “The more we know ourselves, the easier it is to connect with others, and the more connected we are with them,” she writes.

Regarding happiness, “the best way to predict it is to follow the example of someone who is currently where you will be in the future.”

There is also a lot describing problem-solving.  “everything depends on how you use your mind. The way to solve the problems in your life is to open your heart to others.”

And this insight: “Parents cannot eliminate risk. We can shore up our children so that when they encounter it they can make better and more informed choices.

The women learn that tragedy is the same in any language, but humor doesn’t translate so easily, and there are lots of moments across this spectrum.

The title comes from answering the question about who we will accompany, not just in physical travel across the world but across our life. “We cannot always know but we can hold them close when they are near, so we can still hold them when they are far with arms outstretched.”

For those who enjoy memoirs and appreciate travel, this is a very appealing book.

Book review: The exploits of Space Rogue (Cris Thomas)

Space Rogue: How the Hackers Known As L0pht Changed the World by [Cris Thomas]The hacker Cris Thomas, known by his hacker handle Space Rogue, has a new book out that chronicles his rise into infosec security. I have interviewed him when I was writing for IBM’s Security Intelligence blog about his exploits. IBM’s X-Force has been his employer for many years now where he works for numerous corporate clients, plying the tools and techniques he refined when he was one of the founding members of the hacking collective L0pht.

My story covered his return visit to testify to Congress in 2018. Thomas and his colleagues originally testified there back in 1998. The book’s cover art shows this pivotal moment, along with the hacker handles shown as nameplates. The story of how this meeting came to pass is one of the book’s more interesting chapters, and the transcript of their testimony is included in an appendix too.

I also wrote this post about another member of L0pht named Mudge, during his time as a security consultant for Twitter. L0pht is infamous for developing a series of hacking tools, such as Windows NT password crackers (which Thomas goes into enormous detail about the evolution and enhancement of this tool) and a website called Hacker News Network. Thomas describes those formative years with plenty of wit and charm in his new book, which also serves as a reminder of how computer and network security has evolved — or not as the case may be made.

That cracking tool carried L0pht over the course of some twenty plus years. It began as “a small little piece of proof of concept code, hurriedly produced within a few weeks, and went from an exercise to prove a point, security weaknesses in a major operating system, to shareware, to a commercial success,” he writes.

One of his stories is about how L0pht had its first major penetration test of the Cambridge Technology Partners network. The company would go on to eventually purchase Novell and numerous other tech firms. The hackers managed to get all sorts of access to the CTP network, including being able to listen to voicemails about the proposed merger. The two companies were considering the acquisition of L0pht but couldn’t come to terms, and the hackers had left a backdoor in the CTP network that was never used but left on because by then their testing agreement had expired. Fun times.

The early days of L0pht were wild by today’s standards: the members would often prowl the streets of Boston and dumpster dive in search of used computer parts. They would then clean them up and sell them at the monthly MIT electronics flea market. Dead hard drives were one of their specialties — “guaranteed to be dead or your money back if you could get them working.” None of their customers took them up on this offer, however.

One point about those early hacking days — Thomas writes that the “naïveté of hackers in the late ’90s and early 2000s didn’t last long. Hackers no longer explore networks and computer systems from  their parents’ basements (if they ever did); now it is often about purposeful destruction at the bequest of government agencies.”

He recounts the story of when L0pht members brought federal CyberCzar Richard Clarke to their offices in the 1990s. Clarke was sufficiently impressed and told Thomas, “we have always assumed that for a group or organization to develop the capabilities that you just showed us would take the resources only available to a state-sponsored actor. We are going to have to rethink all of our threat models.” Exactly.

There are other chapters about the purchase of L0pht by @stake and Thomas’ eventual firing from the company, then taking eight years to get a college degree at age 40, along with the temporary rebirth of the Hacker News Network and going to work for Tenable and now at IBM.

Thomas ends his book with some words of wisdom. “Hackers are not the bad guys. Most of the great inventors of our time, such as Alexander Graham Bell, Mildred Kenner, and Nichola Tesla, could easily be considered hackers. Criminal gangs who are running ransomware campaigns or are stealing credit cards are just that, criminals. They just happen to use a computer instead of a crowbar. They are not hackers, not to me anyway. L0pht’s message of bringing security issues to light and getting them fixed still echoes throughout the industry and is more important today than ever.” If you are at all interested in reading about the early days of the infosec industry, I highly recommend this book.

Book review: Drinking Games by Sarah Levy

My stepson died last year of throat cancer, brought on by years of alcohol and tobacco abuse. I say this because I thought this was going to be a hard book to read — part memoir, part 12-step navigational handbook, part Big Thoughts. That doesn’t sound like I liked the book, but I did, and thought Levy spoke to me about my stepson and his various demons that he fought and lost. She fought and has won, but it was a hard fight, filled with many missteps and disastrous mistakes.
Alcohol abuse isn’t pretty. Those of us who have been touched by it can’t really understand why it happens to the people we love, and our feeble attempts at trying to help are often doomed from the start. Levy’s book shows how she had the strength of character to fight back — and while she had many years of dismal failures, eventually she figured out a plan. It may not be the plan that you can get behind, but like I said, the navigational aspects of this book are useful guideposts. Even if you are lucky not to have someone you know with these circumstances, I think you will find this book interesting, engaging, and at times pretty darn funny. Highly recommended.

Book review: Sam by Allegra Goodman

Sam: A Novel by [Allegra Goodman]In this novel by Allegra Goodman, we follow the life of Sam during 15 or so years of her young life as she grows up in a dysfunctional family with a special-needs younger brother and her single mother who is trying to make ends meet working two low-end jobs. Sam is a talented rock climber: the story takes place on Boston’s North Shore and we see her grow into some prowess as she develops her climbing abilities and strength. Sam is an interesting character: nothing comes without a lot of pain and hard work, which makes her accomplishments all that more satisfying, both to her and to the reader. The family dynamics: the kids have two different but deadbeat dads that come in and out of the narrative. I really enjoyed the plot, characters, and situations as Sam grows up, finds love and adventure. Highly recommended.

Avast blog: A Bruce Schneier reader

Bruce Schneier’s work has withstood the test of time and is still relevant today.

If you’re looking for recommendations for infosec books to give to a colleague – or even to catch up on some holiday reading of your own – here’s a suggestion: Take a closer look at the oeuvre of Bruce Schneier, a cryptographer and privacy specialist who has been writing about the topic for more than 30 years and has his own blog that publishes interesting links to security-related events, strategies and failures that you should follow. In my blog post for Avast today, I review some of his books.

Book review: A Small Affair by Flora Collins

This was a difficult novel for me to get into for some reason. You don’t really know the four central women that are part of a very toxic and twisted relationship: Two are sisters, both interested at different times in the same man, one of whom she marries and is about to have her second child with when they are both found early on in the book dead in their house. The other two women are friends of the sisters at varying times over the course of ten years. One of them was the murdered husband’s lover shortly before his death, and is eviscerated by the press over that relationship. It took me several tries to get past the first couple of chapters before I could interested in the book, and then the plot thickens. We find out what happened the night of the murder, how the four were introduced, how their lives took various turns and how this novel is really the poster child for bad friendships and relationships. The venality of the women involved is breathtaking and fascinating — it is like watching a huge traffic pile-up on a snowy freeway — but the setting in the modern social media era where oversharing your life can lead to disasterous consequences rings quite true.


Book review: The boys from Biloxi by John Grisham

The boys in this novel are from two families and tracks their lives. One chooses a life of crime, the other of public service. We see the boys as they compete in school sports together and then gradually grow apart into their respective careers. One of the things that I like about Grisham is that his characters seem so true-to-life: we are witness to their triumphs and challenges, loves and friendships both won and lost to moments of critical decisions and fate, The plot takes place in and around Biloxi Miss. and the decades around its infamous coastal “strip” of bars, brothels, and gambling parlors. I found the book as engaging as his other novels, and while a bit heavy on the court scenes, no more so than necessary to move the narrative and characters along. Highly recommended.