Book review by Joe Moran

August 23, 2002

Author: Charlie Kaufman, Radia Perlman, Mike Speciner
Publisher: Prentice Hall
Price: $54.99
Pages: 713
ISBN: 0-13-046019-2

When I first laid eyes on this book, I thought that it would be best to read it down at the beach, since the material looked a little dry. After all, it’s hard cover, over 700 pages, and deals with the subject of network security.

The book is primarily intended for developers who need to implement various types of security in a product or as part a larger system. It could also quite easily serve as a textbook in an advanced computer science class, and indeed the authors eschew chapter summaries in lieu of “Homework” sections, which are, not surprisingly, a series of questions that relate to the information introduced in the chapter.

The 26 chapters are divided into five overall categories: Cryptography, Authentication, Standards, Electronics Mail, and Leftovers, the latter (as the name suggests) dealing with information that does not fit nicely into one of the other four areas.

The individual chapters deal in considerable depth with the inner workings of the myriad alphabet soup that make up contemporary security standards and protocols-things like PKI, SSL, DES, RSA, PGP, and so on. In essence this is primarily a book about encryption inasmuch as any discussion of security is ultimately about encryption.

In spite of the subject matter, the authors do make considerable efforts to make the material as accessible as possible. To illustrate some points, they include quotes from authors, cinema, and even a used car salesman.

Lest you come away with the impression that the authors are staid and stern engineering types, they do exhibit a considerable sense of humor in their writing style, as if to provide that your technical depth need not preclude interesting prose.

One example of this sense of humor is the fact that the book’s dedication is written in ciphertext. The authors also pepper the text with amusing comments and asides, if not the occasional joke (A private key, a public key, and a hash algorithm went into a bar together…).

The authors all but admit that not all of the chapters will be relevant to all audiences and in the Introduction they point out which chapters may be safely skipped without compromising your understanding of the rest of the book. (One good candidate is Chapter 8, “Math with AES and Elliptic Curves”.)

Network Security, Private Communication in a Public World is deeper than the North Atlantic, so it’s not the right choice if you’re simply looking for a basic or conceptual understanding. But if you really need to grok the nitty-gritty of Network Security, you could do a lot worse than this tome.