Book Review - Shields Up! Complete Guide to Windows Security and Mac Privacy
Security and privacy are matters of major importance to most people these days, with news of new malware and hacker attacks appearing almost daily. I use both a PC and a Mac, and I know I haven’t done nearly enough to protect my data on either operating system, which is why I had high hopes for a book that promises to be a Complete Guide. Did I find what I was looking for? Let’s see.
What the book is... and isn’t
Shields Up! comes from a company called WebMinds, which has a website that’s aimed at IT professionals, with text apparently written by them as well.
When I was writing software manuals, I used to joke that a programmer would illuminate a room by "disabling the light-inhibit." Same basic principle here. The book’s author, Liz Cornwell, either learned to write in this style or her editors at WebMinds corrected the book into this "programmer language" style, and unfortunately, it does not make for easy reading. Still, the topic is an important one, so I pressed on.
The introduction says "In this book, we are going to cover every single aspect how you can avoid computer infections, stay away from online fraud and identity theft, secure your home network and protect yourself from hacker attacks." Besides the glaring grammatical error, that’s an awful lot to expect from a book that’s just over 90 pages long. Especially because it’s followed on the very next page by:
"So, what is a secure system and what makes a system secure? To cut a long story short, a secure system is a system that has:
- Secure and controlled user access
- Personal information protection
- Real-time protection
- Secure backups
This list doesn’t include every possible security measure, but it covers the minimum that ensures the security of a home computer."
So is it every single aspect, or the minimum?
Shields Up! also cripples itself by not displaying its Table of Contents in a sidebar (to make navigation easy) and not containing an Index, both of which I consider essential for a technical book. If I have to keep flipping back to the beginning to look at the Table of Contents (which is not linked to the appropriate pages in the book) and can’t look up individual topics in an Index, I can only think that the people who put together the e-book did just the bare minimum to get by. In a book this expensive ($40 for a 94-page e-book) this kind of construction is inexcusable.
Moving right along...
Shields Up! gives a reasonable overview of the various kinds of threats that people may encounter, including malware, pop-ups with bogus links and nasties one might encounter via clicking on the wrong things in social media. There are illustrated instructions for increasing one’s security in both Windows XP and Windows 7 by requiring a secure logon password, and there are elementary instructions for creating secure passwords.
The book then blows itself out of the water by talking about encryption software called SensiGuard, and providing a link that is not to a website providing more information about the product, but directly to a download! If the book planned to slip malware past the unsuspecting reader, this is a prime example of how it could be done. (NOTE: This is not a malware link. SensiGuard is legitimate, if average—according to cNet reviews—software. It’s the principle involved.)
There’s a discussion of the different kinds of multi-level authentication (with yet another link to SensiGuard) that gives no details on how best to use such things. And there are no further details later in the book.
… or not.
Where To Buy
Most of the rest of the book is taken up by perfunctory discussions of the various kinds of malware one might encounter, with brief sections explaining how to deal with them. There’s a short section on encryption (MULTIPLE opportunities to download SensiGuard!) and a reasonably well illustrated section on TrueCrypt (which is free, so apparently there was no need to link directly to a download).
There’s a section that gives an overview of commercially available and free security software and firewalls and a short discussion of antispyware software. There’s also a perfunctory listing of browser add-ons. None of these sections provide links to find more information about any of the software or add-ons. I guess unless it’s SensiGuard, the reader is left to his or her own devices.
Oh, and that business about "Mac privacy"? Forget it. Gee, Macs did get malware in the past. So maybe you ought to use an anti-virus. That’s about it.
This book’s title promises a lot that it simply does not deliver. It reads like a rush job. The constant linking directly to a software download is inexcusable. The company that produced the book also produced the software, which makes this book not so much a guide to security as an ad to sell their product. There is no mention of this fact in the text, and there should have been. The price is ridiculous, the book’s construction makes it unnecessarily hard to use, and quite frankly, anyone who wants to find out about security and security software can get a much better, much more complete and far better-written education right here on this web site in our Security for Everyone series. You can pat yourself on the back for avoiding this book and learning a lot more about security for free.