Monday, 14 December 2015

Intercept The Secret History of Computers and Spies by Gordon Corera

Review by The Mole

My history is in IT for 35 years and have seen it transform from the scary mainframes of the 70s to the science fiction of today, so when I saw Gordon Corera giving a talk on this book at Edinburgh International Book Festival I felt I just had to go and see what it was about. His talk whet my appetite enough to read the book. The book is not technical, nor is Corera, but he details the history of spying through the use of communications technology from 1914 to almost the present day.

The book explores the use of telegraph, telephone, wireless and then the internet to spy, examining how changes in communications have reformed spy techniques to a nine to five office job away from the glamour and gadgetry of 007.

Fascinating from the very first page you have to be prepared for surprises aplenty as Corera lets you in on things that have happened but have not made the headlines. How industrial espionage now focuses on getting in to your competitor's systems and stealing their ideas, plans and even tenders so that you can beat them to the sale yet not get caught in the act.

And while hacking is seen as teenagers locked away in their bedrooms (and these still exist) there are also factories and office blocks devoted to hacking.  But it's not just companies and spotty teenage hackers - it's governments as well. And when governments buy technology from abroad how can they be sure that their aren't little surprises in store for the new owner... and has that ever happened? And did America really succeed at interfering with Iran's nuclear enrichment program?

With insights into GCHQ and the NSA, their history, their naivety at times, and their coming of age this book will really help the sceptic to understand the reasoning behind the desire to see our emails and internet traffic and try to explain that's it's all for our own good... so long as controls are maintained. It also cites a few examples where controls where breached.

This really is one excellent book and while I was a technician and did have responsibility for site security of the server farm, this book was not technical and still surprised me time and again. How could some of these things go unnoticed for so long? How could people get in and out so easily? How could people be so cavalier with their own security.

There is so much to this book it is difficult to truly explain what it's about except that the title tries to say it all.

Truly fascinating, a little frightening and although not a coffee time read, it's well worth the time and effort.

Publisher - Orion Books Genre - Non-Fiction

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