Book Review: America the Vulnerable

America the Vulnerable book cover

As a senior employee at the National Security Agency (NSA) in the years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, Joel Brenner knows a thing or two about computer security. In America the Vulnerable: Inside the New Threat Matrix of Digital Espionage, Crime, and Warfare he examines the threat posed to the United States by cyber-warfare and cyber-terrorism.

Brenner emphasises that this new type of warfare is radically different from anything America has previously encountered, and is a theatre in which they do not possess their traditional power advantage. The Chinese, for example, have an estimated 30,000 cyberspies working for the government. Russia and other countries have similar numbers.

America the Vulnerable uses numerous examples to highlight how nations and even rogue groups are able to disrupt infrastructure including power supplies, water treatment facilities, and telephone networks. The range of ITGS social impacts is huge – “everyday” security threats like spyware, trojan horses, and botnets take on a whole new meaning when harnessed by one nation and unleashed against another. Ironically, part of Brenner’s authority on this topic stems from the fact that the US has tried many of these attacks against its own enemies – including the notorious Stuxnet worm which attacked Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities in 2010.

Another issue America the Vulnerable raises is the difficulty of combating cyber-warfare threats. Human behaviour is revealed to play a significant role – Brenner recounts one story where a simple USB flash drive, left in a Pentagon car park by foreign agents, contained malware that was able to infiltrate the Pentagon’s networks once an unwitting employee inserted it into his computer. The threat remained undetected for almost a year, sniffing data and passwords as they passed over the network.

Cyberware falls under the ITGS Politics and Government topic, which goes hand-in-hand with the Security social / ethical issue. America the Vulnerable is a great read for ITGS students or teachers interested in wider issues related to this area, and the reader will find many examples that directly relate to the ITGS syllabus.

You can buy America the Vulnerable in paperback, on the Kindle, and with free worldwide shipping from Book Depository.

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