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July 2003


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Review: Steal This Computer Book 3: What They Won’t Tell You About the Internet (book)

by Eric Blair,


Author: Wallace Wang, No Starch Press

Price: $25

Trial: Chapter 17

From spam to computer viruses to outright theft, there are a number of unfortunate things that can happen once you connect your computer to the Internet. Steal This Computer Book 3 attempts to point a spotlight at some of the darker corners of the Internet and give you some pointers for protecting yourself. That is a lot of information to cover in 358 pages and, as you might expect, some topics are covered in greater depth than others.

Steal This Computer Book 3 is broken down into five parts, each part containing several chapters with similar base topics. The five parts are as follows: information on the Internet, threats on the Internet, accessing computer systems, protecting yourself, and protecting your computer. Together, these parts cover a wide range of information. While it’s nice to have all this in one place, I’m a bit confused as to whom this book is aimed at. On the one hand, some of the information is extremely basic (i.e., if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is). On the other hand, some of the stuff is fairly in depth (i.e., a brief discussion of Loadable Kernel Modules). I have a hard time envisioning somebody who can read this book from cover to cover without eventually saying to themselves either “I already know this; it’s common sense” or “All right, that just went completely over my head.”

In the first part of Steal This Computer Book 3, “Information Overload (Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics),” Wallace Wang reminds us that we need to take point of view and biases into account when we gather information. That is something you should also remember when reading.

For instance, Wang basically condemns spam as having no redeeming qualities (no argument here) and provides pointers for deciphering e-mail headers for reporting spammers to the appropriate authorities. Several chapters earlier, though, he discusses ways to inexpensively get computer software—photocopy the cover of a friend’s copy of Lotus 1-2-3 to get the competitive upgrade price for Microsoft Excel or “borrow” a friend’s copy and use a CD key generator if you don’t have the CD key. I just find it curious that Wang condemns one activity that is largely legal, though extremely annoying, while openly discussing other activities of questionable legality.

Steal This Macintosh?

I was rather disappointed by Steal This Computer’s coverage of the Macintosh. While the majority of the topics in the book are platform-agnostic, there is a fair bit of platform-specific discussion as well. Most of this coverage is Windows-based, but both Macintosh and Linux are discussed as well. However, I believe the only references I saw to OS X were a mention of Safari in the section on pop-up ads and a mention of Firewalk, an OS X-only firewall application.

Oddly enough, the section on firewalls includes detailed instructions on activating Windows XP’s built-in firewall without mentioning that OS X 10.2 includes its own firewall software that you can turn on in three fewer steps than the Windows XP firewall. I suppose it’s possible that most of this book was written before 10.2 was released (late August 2002), but Wang managed to mention Safari, which didn’t debut until January 2003.

There is also an appendix that lists various applications for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux systems, broken down by category. Again, the vast majority of the programs listed are for Windows. Many categories don’t have any Macintosh programs listed. In some cases, there just aren’t any Macintosh programs in that category, but in other cases it seems like Wang just didn’t include the Macintosh software. When Macintosh applications are listed, they are often applications that have not been updated in years, don’t run under OS X, or have been discontinued.

The most egregious example of this is probably the anti-virus section, which lists Agax, Disinfectant, and McAfee VirusScan. Agax was updated last year, but doesn’t run under OS X. Disinfectant is rapidly approaching the 5th anniversary of its last update. McAfee seems to have discontinued the Macintosh version of VirusScan.

Another category with a questionable list of applications is the MP3 tools section; it lists Macast Lite and SoundJam MP Free. Personally, I think iTunes would at least warrant a mention, since it is probably the most widely used MP3 player on the Macintosh and, unlike the other two programs, runs under OS X.


I found Steal This Computer Book 3 an interesting compendium of the threats you can encounter on the Internet, but I’m still a little confused about the target audience for this book. I was interested in some of the hack-related topics, but found some of the spam-related topics so blindingly obvious that I found myself questioning the reason for their existence. Conversely, somebody who is reading this book and finds the section on spam educational might not even comprehend the sections on viruses and Trojan horses. Also, as I said earlier, you shouldn’t read this book if you’re expecting a lot of Macintosh-specific information.

Reader Comments (2)

Serpent · April 25, 2008 - 23:43 EST #1
FYI: OS X is simply Apple's "proprietorized" version of Sun Microsystems' UNIX operating system (just as Linux is Linus Torvalis' open-source version).

Thus, many of the UNIX/Linux based tips covered in "Steal This Computer Book" will work under OS X as well.

That Wallace failed to mention this simple fact to readers in that chapter entitled: "Information Overload (Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics)" does not bode well.

Conversely, the fact that you did not know any of this is not remotely surprising in light of the fact that you use a Mac :P
Eric Blair (ATPM Staff) · April 26, 2008 - 00:15 EST #2
Yes, Serpent, I own a Mac. And a PC. And I have a degree in computer science. And a background in software development. Anything else? :P

On a serious note, most time I review books, I look at them from the perspective of an typical Mac users. There are, of course, exceptions (like my review of Really Cool Shell Scripts). Most typical Mac users aren't going to drop into the command line to run Unix tools. My Mac-specific complaints about this book focused on the inconsistent presentation of Mac-related information. Some information was absent while other information was woefully out of date.

Perhaps I should have mentioned the OS X-UNIX connection in the review. However, I did not have the time to go through the book and determine which UNIX tips were possible under OS X. Furthermore, as you indicate, Wang should have been the one to make this connection in the text. Considering that some of the book is spent on topics as pedestrian as explaining spam and search engines, he should not have assumed that his reader would or would not have this knowledge.


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