Friday, July 22, 2022

Cobb's Guide to PC and LAN Security: the 30th anniversary of the first version

The Stephen Cobb Complete Book of PC and LAN Security first appeared in print in 1992, an amazing 30 years ago. In celebration of this anniversary, I'm reminding people that a PDF copy of the last version of the book is freely downloadable under a Creative Commons license. 

While a lot of the book's technical content is now dated—a polite way of saying it is stuck in the late 1990s and thus mainly of historical interest—much of the theory and strategy still rings true 

The large file size of this 700 page tome led me to publish it in three easily digestible parts: Part One; Part Two; and Part Three. (You can also scroll down the column on the right of this page for download inks.)

Despite the original title, which was imposed by the publisher, the volume that appeared 30 years ago was by no means a "complete book" on the subject; nor is it now a contemporary guide. However, you can still find it on Amazon, even though did not exist when the first version was published. The images on the left of this article are the current Amazon listings of the three versions (which I will explain shortly).

If you are inclined to take this particular trip down computer security's memory lane, I suggest you download the free electronic version rather than purchase on Amazon. On that trip you will find a few items of note, such as this observation:
"The goal of personal computer security is to protect and foster the increased creativity and productivity made possible by a technology that has so far flourished with a minimum of controls, but which finds itself increasingly threatened by the very openness that led to its early success. To achieve this goal, you must step from an age of trusting innocence into a new era of realism and responsibility, without lurching into paranoia and repression."
I'd say that's a decent piece of prognostication for 1992. It's one of the reasons I have kept the book available all these years, a mix of nostalgia, history, and first principles. Along with a number of friends and fellow security professionals—like Winn Schwartau, Bruce Schneier, and Jeff Moss—I am inclined to think that the parlous state of cybersecurity in 2022, relative to the level of cybercriminal activity, could have been avoided is only more people had taken our advice more seriiously in the 1990s.

Three Versions and a Free Version

I made a lot of changes when I turned that 1992 volume into The NCSA Guide to PC and LAN Security—a 700 page paperback that was published in 1995—but that edition is also very outdated these days. Around 12 years ago I obtained the copyright to these works and, through an arrangement with the Authors Guild, got it reprinted as Cobb's Guide to PC and LAN Security. This was done largely for sentimental reasons and the copies are only printed on demand. 

However, in that process I obtained a high resolution scan of the entire book. I then converted this to text using Adobe OCR software. The result is what I have put online. (Warning: you may encounter OCR errors and artifacts; no claims are made as to accuracy of the information in this document; use at your own risk and discretion, etc.).

Computer Security Prognosis and Predictions 

I plan to post more thoughts on computer security "then and now" but for now I leave you with another quote from the 1992 Stephen Cobb Complete Book of PC and LAN Security:
"The most cost-effective long-term approach to personal computer security is the promotion of mature and responsible attitudes among users. Lasting security will not be achieved by technology, nor by constraints on those who use it. True security can only be achieved through the willing compliance of users with universally accepted principles of behavior. Such compliance will increase as society as a whole becomes increasingly computer literate, and users understand the personal value of the technology they use."

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