The history of cyberespionage, combining “related stories like encryption and code-breaking [and] the rise of the computer industry and its complex relationship with the secret world.”
In 1944, the first programmable electronic computer began operation in Britain’s Bletchley Park. Built to decipher German codes, it performed brilliantly. Computers remain essential to espionage and other dubious activities, writes BBC security correspondent Corera (The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service, 2013, etc.) in this engrossing history of the dark side of the information revolution. By the end of the Cold War, technical advances enabled hackers and spies to steal “data at rest” inside a computer rather than struggle to intercept “data in motion” traveling from one place to another. In response, and also to detect the activity of terrorists, security organizations such as the National Security Agency sweep up immense quantities of information, including that of their own citizens, and filter it for suspicious activity. No one designed operating systems for security. In the 1980s, when experts discovered how easily hackers could penetrate computers, they began designing patches, firewalls, and other defenses. However, “it was not possible to retrofit security,” so no system is immune to intrusion, theft, and damage. Some attacks, such as the Stuxnet virus, which destroyed Iran’s uranium centrifuges, resemble acts of war, and there is no doubt that in future wars, “alongside tanks, missiles, and guns there would be viruses, worms, logic bombs, trapdoors and Trojan horses.” This book was originally published in England, so Americans will encounter unfamiliar acronyms and an emphasis on Britain’s experience, but Corera casts his net widely and makes it clear that America is the leader in the battle, as well as the most vulnerable.
A convincing argument that the most secure way to communicate is via snail mail.