In an age of almost weekly hacks on various multinational corporations, banks, Hollywood movie studios, and government agencies—each more brazen or damaging than the last—it’s no surprise that a spate of books on the subject has hit the market in recent months. After all, those hacks, along with the countless others that go unrecorded every day around the world, affect us all in one way or another.
Future Crimes: Everything is Connected, Everyone is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It, by Marc Goodman is one of those books that addresses the growing chasm between our Internet-woven lives and the security necessary to protect us from the people who would exploit our reliance on it.
And it’s an eye-opener. Goodman, a former police officer, current cyber security expert and founder of the Future Crimes Institute, makes his living studying cyber threats and the people and organizations who perpetuate them. He’s one of the leading experts in the field, having worked with the FBI and Interpol, among others. Given his credentials, Future Crimes is exactly what you might expect it to be: a well-researched tome of extremely detailed case studies covering everything from hacks and cyber attacks committed against private individuals and organizations to the methods used to gain access to some of the most protected security systems in the world.
As it turns out, according to Goodman, hacking is no longer solely relegated to the realm of lone teenagers working out of their parents’ basements. Instead, hacking has become a multi-billion dollar industry, with operations as sophisticated and well-funded as some of their targets. Singletons, terrorists, organized crime syndicates, state sponsored hackers, and “hacktivists” (groups of hackers who do what they do for what they perceive to be good causes) all have staked a claim in the digital gold mine that is the Internet. They work full-time, attempting—and usually succeeding—to access and steal data that can be used to turn a profit or, in some cases, wreak unimaginable havoc.
In one of his more eye-opening chapters, Goodman discusses how terrorist groups have upped their game when it comes to harnessing technology to achieve their goals. Describing in minute detail how the terrorists in the 2008 Mumbai attacks used Google Earth, BlackBerrys, and real-time social media updates to plan and conduct their attacks (the same technology we use to plan a date), Goodman lays bare the terrorists’ tactics, techniques and procedures. The actual operatives on the ground, he writes, had constant, direct communications with an operations center in Pakistan staffed by commanders who were watching events unfold on major news networks, allowing them to monitor their operatives’ progress and the Indian government’s response.
Goodman also discusses the darker side of the internet, or the Dark Net, a digital underworld built specifically for illicit use that most of us don’t know even exists. He tells the story of Silk Road, the “eBay of drugs and vice,” where, if you’re savvy enough to gain access and speak the language, you can hire assassins, buy or sell child pornography freely and without fear of law enforcement interference, and even trade in human organs.
Setting aside the more nefarious aspects of the cyber world to discuss the legitimate, day-to-day aspects of the Internet doesn’t do the reader’s nerves any good. Future Crimes also details the easy and legitimate access we all either freely give away or inadvertently leak to data brokers every time we use our computers or smart phones. The staggering net worth of this raw data—ages, genders, browsing habits, sexual preferences, medical conditions, personal networks and the like—collected about tens of millions of people around the world, every day, climbs into tens of billions of dollars each year. This information is not only attractive to criminals, but to legitimate companies “across all industries, whether retail, transportation, or pharmaceuticals” as well. The World Economic Forum regards our personal data as “the new oil” when it comes to overall value.
Despite being well-written, Future Crimes is a veritable train wreck of a book, brutal in its detail, with case studies piling on top of each other like so many derailed freight cars. The never-ending string of crimes related in the book becomes so mind-numbingly messy that it eventually exhausts the reader. This, unfortunately, begins around the halfway point and dilutes the overall effectiveness of the message Goodman is trying to impart. He knows the ultimate effect his book will have on the reader, though, stating in the prologue that “if you proceed in reading the pages that follow, you will never look at your car, smart phone, or vacuum cleaner the same way again.”
While heavy on the “crimes” portion of the world in which we now live, Future Crimes unfortunately offers very little in the way of solutions for the current state of affairs. The few fixes under our control are consigned to a short appendix at the end of the book that Goodman promises, if followed, can help the reader avoid 85 percent of current threats. Beyond that, though, it’s apparent that our inexorable link to all things digital now and forever makes being hacked just a matter of time.
If you’re interested in security, cyber security, or how the details of your life can be probed, stolen or affected by accessing the Internet, this book is a must-read. If you’d rather not know, exactly, how almost every pixel of your online existence is accessed, mined, and sold or stolen over and over again, take a pass.
FUTURE CRIMES: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and What We Can Do About It
By Marc Goodman
Anchor Books, 512 pp.
Thom Nezbeda is a journalist focusing on global conflict, crisis, and security issues. He writes about Middle Eastern and European affairs, military affairs, counterterrorism, national security the growing refugee crisis, and religious persecution. A former on-air radio personality and general assignment reporter after college, Thom put his journalism career on hold to join the military, where he spent nine and-a-half years as a Marine Corps Infantry Squad Leader and team leader in the Army, with combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a graduate of the Defense Language Institute’s Arabic Basic Course, speaks French, and has extensive experience in Europe and the Middle East. Thom has written for The Georgia Guardian, Blue Force Tracker, The CP Journal, and The Soufan Group among others. For more information or to follow Thom visit http://www.thomnezbeda.com/.