Book Review: Future Crimes by Marc Goodman

This is a scary book.  It’s not light reading and it’s not entertaining.  It’s an important book, but I don’t think I would recommend it to everyone.  For some, it will be too damn depressing.  For chapter after chapter and hundreds of pages it goes on and on about how Internet companies, social media networks, cyber-criminals and hackers from rogue governments can screw you, and it offers very little hope of practical remedies to the catastrophic possibilities it delineates.

The author is very thorough in enumerating every possible way that you can get attacked on the Internet; it would be impossible for me to list every aspect of cybercrime and scamming that he goes into.  Briefly, though, he first details the methods that social media, search engines, and other Internet companies that offer supposedly free services use to troll for consumer data to sell to advertisers.  He makes a valid point, one that I had never realized before:  People who accept the terms of service that these companies proffer – usually without reading them – and make use of their services are not really customers but product; the real customers are advertisers who buy the data that the companies siphon from those who use their services.  The terms of service are meant to be long, complicated, and in small print so that consumers do not really understand that they are signing away their right to privacy when they agree to them.

But that’s just the beginning, folks.  There follows in great detail an explanation of how criminals have evolved their methods of operation in the cyber age, and how easy it is to hack into just about any computer in existence and steal identities, credit card numbers, and endless amounts of other data.  The author gives so much information on criminal activities on the Internet, including web addresses of online services that criminals use for their nefarious deeds, that the book is like a how-to primer for aspiring criminals on how to go about implementing a career in cyber crime.

In the book’s defense, most people really do have no idea what they are getting into when they surf the net and how easy it is to get cyber-mugged.  Read the book and you’ll sure as hell be on your guard.  In fact, when you finish the book you’ll probably be so terrified by the multitudinous threats that you’ll want to head off to a cabin in the woods and cut yourself off from any trace of cyber communication.  Alas, that is not the answer to the problem, says the author.  The Internet, along with other forms of rapidly advancing technology such as artificial intelligence, robots, biological engineering, nanotechnology and other new fields are ubiquitous and inevitable, or soon will be.

Unfortunately, the author, after screaming like an Old Testament prophet of doom for 450 pages, spends only a few pages at the end sketching out the most rudimentary of solutions to the many problems.  Most of his solutions involve spending billions on national and multinational task forces to combat cyber crime.  Getting government officials to realize the threat and cooperate together to efficiently avert it seems all but impossible.

Like I said, the author makes it all seem hopeless, helpless, and deeply depressing.  That’s why I said that this book may not be for everyone.  It makes you want to run screaming into the woods.  Instead, many people would benefit from a shorter, lighter, more instructional book on how to defend themselves the best they can from cyber-threats.

The threats are real, of course, there’s no doubt about it.  Landfills with heaping piles of garbage are real too, but most folks don’t need a meticulous detailing of every particle of rubbish in them to know that they pose a threat to the environment.  Parts of this book are tough to slog through, although they hold a sort of grim fascination, when the author goes on for page after page of nitty-gritty detail about various ways that evil people are trying to get you.  It’s often repetitive as well; tighter editing would have improved the coherency and flow.  Nevertheless, it is a chilling, effective warning for all those who use the Internet of the very real dangers that lie in wait out there in cyberspace for the unwary.

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