REVIEW: "The Information Security Dictionary", Urs E. Gattiker
From: Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Trevor (rslade_at_sprint.ca)
Date: Mon, 14 Mar 2005 16:02:29 GMT
"The Information Security Dictionary", Urs E. Gattiker, 2004,
%A Urs E. Gattiker firstname.lastname@example.org
%C 233 Spring St., New York, NY 10013
%O U$145.00/C$203.50 212-460-1500 800-777-4643
%O tl n rl 1 tc 0 ta 2 tv 1 wq 0
%P 411 p.
%T "The Information Security Dictionary"
A good dictionary of information security terms is seriously needed by
the security community, and by the computer and communications
industry as a whole. The "Internet Security Dictionary" (cf.
BKINSCDC.RVW), by Phoha, was a good start, but needs to be expanded
I have been working on a security glossary myself, so this might be
yet another case of bias or conflict of interest. I should also note
that, although it is widely believed that I enjoy trashing books, I am
actively looking for works that I can recommend. Oh, it's easier to
point out flaws in a work than it is to say why someone writes well.
However, I take no particular pleasure in having to savage a work as
thoroughly as this one requires.
Far too many of the definitions contain misleading, incomplete, or
outright false information. Anomaly-Based Intrusion Detection Systems
are said to discover known attacks, which might be true, but
signature-based systems would normally be considered better for that
purpose: you want anomaly-based detection to discover previously
unknown attacks. The entry for Authentication does not list the
standard factors of something you know, have, or are. The definition
for the Bell-La Padula security model doesn't provide any details of
the pattern itself, does not mention confidentiality (a central
concept), and does not refer to the Trusted Computer System Evaluation
Criteria and other outcomes of the paradigm. The Biba integrity model
is listed as "Bibra."
Patent mentions the ability of the patent holder to restrict use, but
doesn't mention that patent is only applicable to devices and that the
device must be novel, useful, and non-obvious. Reference is made to
copyright (the definition of which is equally flawed) and to Tables
16A and B, neither of which alludes to intellectual property laws. No
listing is given for trade secrets or trade marks. Both the entry for
patent and the account of copyright state that patents protect ideas,
which is specifically untrue.
There is a listing for Illegal Software (software used without a
licence), although there isn't one for piracy. There is one for
Software Piracy, but neither of the two cross-references points to
Illegal Software. There is an entry for Cable, as in cable TV, but
nothing for cabling as in network media, which has much greater
importance in terms of information security. Challenge Handshake
points to Handshake (there is no listing for challenge/response) and,
for some completely inexplicable reason, also to Circuit-Level
The sub-listing for Content Filtering (which comes under filtering,
rather than content) makes no mention of the origin of the practice in
restricting access to objectionable material.
"DoS on the 13 Internet Root Servers" is not the title of a famous
Cultural Revolution artwork, but a reference to the October, 2002
attack against the top-level DNS servers. Almost no details of the
event are provided (and this was actually a *distributed* denial of
Digital Versatile Disk (generally used as an update to Digital Video
Disk, the original expansion of the DVD acronym) is defined as using
both sides of the disk (almost unknown in commercial DVDs) and also
notes a capacity of 17 gigabytes, which would actually require both
sides and both depths.
One of the sub-entries under Disinfection is Generic Scan String,
which has nothing to do with disinfection of computer viruses.
"Activity monitor" is defined solely in terms of employee
surveillance, and ignores the specialized use in malware detection.
The entry for Cookies states (incorrectly) that they can only be used
by the originating site. However, there is a cross-reference to table
18A (a mere 140 pages from the entry). Table 18A has no mention of
the term. Table 18B does have a listing for Java Cookies--which
contradicts the earlier assertion, and says that other parties can
read cookies. Defence-In-Depth has a reference to Table 6A. There is
no 6A, although there is a 6. Table 6 contains no reference to
Urs isn't always certain of his definitions: an Application Level
Gateway "could" be a type of firewall. However, in that case, he is
certain that it re-addresses traffic--which is actually the function
of network address translation (NAT), generally considered a type of
circuit-level proxy firewall. Phishing is equated with "carding"
(obtaining or trading in credit card numbers for fraudulent use) while
the more definitive practice of obtaining banking information is
ignored. (We are told that avoiding the running of attachments
prevents phishing. Phishing scams seldom make use of attachments or
Cross references are not always accurate. On page 12 the listing for
"Anti-Virus Researcher" points to the entry for "Research." There is
no material for Anti-Virus Researcher in that entry, but there is in
the later entry for "Researcher." Ethics points to Justice, which
doesn't say anything about ethics.
Some of the terms included are rather odd. "Binders" are supposed to
be utilities that bind multiple code modules together. Most people
refer to these utilities as linkers. "Derf" was used as a term for
hijacking sessions on logged in terminals, but in a limited setting
and quite a while back: the term is pretty much unknown today.
The definitions given for some entries don't seem to have any real
meaning. For example, "Virus Algorithm means a set of operations or a
procedure designed to create a virus problem." Many long definitions
appear to have been patched together from disparate and unrelated
sources, not listing additional meanings, just appending disjointed
Some of the definitions given are correct. Heck, some are copied
straight out of government documents. But Gattiker has included a
number of terms which are either generic, or have only the most
tenuous of connections to security. There is an entry for Computer
Mouse. There is a listing for the fictional cyberpunks, but no
mention of the real-world cypherpunk community. The definition for
Virology deals only with biology. The entry for Virus is only
relevant to (pretty much obsolete) file infectors.
As could be expected with a work of this calibre, a number of terms
are simply missing. There are entries for false positive and false
negative, but none for false acceptance or false rejection (the more
widely known terms for similar concepts).
It is difficult to give a complete picture of the unreliability of
this text. It would be easy for me to simply do an exhaustive search
of every minor error, and in a few pages collect all that might be
wrong with an otherwise great work. But in this volume we have
spurious listings, missing entries, definitions that make no sense to
the reader, explanations that are erroneous, and even opinion stated
as fact. (The man, or manual, pages of the UNIX system, incorrectly
identified as "main" pages, are said to be technobabble, presumably
because Urs doesn't understand their cryptic nature.) Slang is
included and technical terms are left out.
Probably the best way to give a flavour of the quality of this work is
to reproduce some listings. (I have tried to be as careful as
possible in copying the exact writing and punctuation of the entries
as they appear in the book.)
A listing that sounds good but makes no sense (as well as being a non-
sequitur) provides a good feel for the quality of language and logic
representative of the work as a whole:
Homomorphic Encryption is a cryptographic technique in which
the sum of two encrypted values is equal to the encrypted sum
of the values. The signature operation in public key
cryptography is an exponentiation operation using the private
key as the exponent.
According to "Algebraic Aspects of Cryptography" by Neal Koblitz (cf.
BKALASCR.RVW), and a number of other references, homomorphism refers
to groups or sets rather than express algorithms or techniques.
Homomorphic encryption can be useful for signature or authentication
systems where anonymity is important (such as in voting procedures)
but it probably isn't necessary to specify exponentiation.
The sub-entry for "Anti-Virus Researcher or Security Assurance
Researcher" on page 270 is lengthier, and requires a bit more
Anti-Virus Researcher or Security Assurance Researcher may
conduct his or her research in many ways. An example might be
a lawyer searching among old court cases for legal precedents
regarding Privacy and Hacking.
An epidemiologist studying age groups or cohorts and hip-
fracture incidents to an Anti-Virus Researcher studying
malicious code to discover programming patterns and
characteristics (see Theory).
Often Anti-Virus Researcher is used synonymously with "product
development." Sometimes, a "bonafide antivirus researcher's"
role within his or her organization might be documented by
independent examination (see also Appendix 3 and badguys
It should be reasonably obvious that the specialized activity of
antivirus research and the more general undertaking of security
assurance research are not exactly synonymous. In addition, very
little antivirus research involves case law. If you are confused by
the meaning of the sentence about an epidemiologist, you are not
alone. Again, very little antivirus research involves hip-fractures.
Some AV researchers are also product developers, but the two
activities are hardly identical. The reference to "badguys website"
is to the "Bad Guys" Website (www.badguys.org) run by Sarah Gordon,
which does have some information about legitimate virus research, in
opposition to the blackhats who write viruses and call themselves
If, following the cross reference to Theory, we flip to page 324, we
find a sub-entry for "Anti-Virus Theory":
Anti-Virus Theory if it would exist would be based on
Inductive or Deductive Research outline phenomena and their
relationship to other issues. Hence, investigation of the
subject aimed at uncovering new information in a systematic
way, while permitting a group of statements about how some
part of the world works, in this case Computer Viruses. A
good Anti-Virus Theory would allow us to generalize from one
virus to the next (see Tables 19A and 19B).
The wording here would seem to imply that Anti-Virus Theory does not
exist, which raises the immediate question of why you would include an
entry for a non-existent entity. Induction and deduction are fairly
broad tools: the first sentence doesn't really appear to say anything
useful about the type of theory or research. Tables 19A and B are
nowhere near that entry. In fact, you will find them on pages 207 and
209-11. Neither do the tables have anything to do with viruses: they
talk about the costs and prevalence of various forms of Internet
access. In any case, that entry doesn't appear to say anything about
any theory to do with computer viruses, beyond the definition of a
theory in general.
(If we follow the further cross-reference to "Methodology," we find no
allusion to antivirus research at all.)
Errors in formatting (particularly indenting) are rife, and make it
difficult to follow the structure of entries, or the book as a whole.
Bold text sometimes means that the term is another entry, but
sometimes it doesn't seem to mean anything. Sometimes the formatting
problem might explain entries that appear to be out of place, but I'm
not sure that they explain the sequential listings of Autopsy,
Authorization, and Auto Dial-Back.
There are numerous typographical errors, mistakes in spelling and
grammar, and tremendous inconsistencies in capitalization. Even the
most cursory copy and style edit would have improved things
The security community and industry deserves better than this.
Students of security need more accurate information than is provided
in this work. Society as a whole is relying on information security
and requires more credible content than this book contains.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 2004 BKINSCDI.RVW 20041222
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