How we picked our best cybersecurity books
The criteria for our best cybersecurity book list were simple:
- The book had to cover an important cybersecurity topic or person — for example, as interesting as it was, the history of cryptography in Ancient Egypt just wasn’t relevant enough to cybersecurity to make the cut.
- The book’s author had to be an expert in the field of cybersecurity. This included renowned hackers, university professors, penetration testers, and esteemed tech journalists.
- The book had to be written using plain, simple language. Nothing kills the joy of learning faster than a solid wall of technobabble. Even books aimed at experts can be written in an engaging way.
- The book had to be fun. Yes, cybersecurity is a serious topic, but that doesn’t mean all cybersecurity experts are killjoys.
8 real cybersecurity stories that shook the world
Sometimes it’s best to learn by example. These books feature exciting accounts of real people and incidents that had a major impact on the way we think about cybersecurity today.
Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker
Authors: Kevin Mitnick and William L. Simon
Meet Kevin Mitnick, the man who put the word “hacker” firmly on America’s radar. Mitnick’s black hat career spanned nearly two decades and saw him take down corporate giants like Motorola, Sun Microsystems, and Pacific bell. His escapades kept him firmly in the FBI’s Most Wanted list right up until his arrest in 1995.
Ghost in the Wires offers readers a deep dive into the mind of a master hacker. Mitnick describes many of the techniques he used to penetrate cybersecurity defenses, including how simple social engineering tricks would regularly fool law enforcement personnel and company employees. It’s a great way to understand cybersecurity from a hacker’s perspective — and a thrilling read from cover to cover.
The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage
Author: Clifford Stoll
Sometimes, reality is stranger than fiction. A $0.75 account error leads Clifford Stoll to “Hunter,” a hacker that had infiltrated US computer systems to steal military secrets. Curious, Stoll begins spying on the intruder, starting a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse that ultimately ends up uncovering connections to an international spy ring sponsored by the Soviet KGB.
The technology described in The Cuckoo’s Egg may be unfamiliar to modern readers because the action takes place in the late 1980s — a time before personal computers and the ubiquity of the internet. But the investigative techniques used by Stoll to uncover clues that a cyberattack took place are as relevant today as they were back then.
Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers
Author: Andy Greenberg
You could be forgiven for mistaking Andy Greenberg’s Sandworm for a techno-political thriller. At first glance, it seems to be a larger-than-life story of secret elite Russian hackers carrying out terror attacks in Ukraine and other NATO countries while dodging international efforts to bring them down.
Only one caveat — it’s all true.
Greenberg takes us through a secret cyberwar that started in 2014 and culminated in 2017, when the NotPetya malware paralyzed some of the world’s largest corporations. The attacks were carried out by Sandworm — a mysterious group of highly skilled hackers sponsored by the Russian state.
Sandworm lets the reader follow the trail of crumbs left behind by the culprits to reveal the impact Russia’s digital warfare operations had on foreign governments and infrastructure. It also doesn’t shy from the technical details, explaining what tools the hacker group used to penetrate so deeply and inflict so much damage.
Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon
Author: Kim Zetter
Countdown to Zero Day is a great book to read if you’re having trouble waking up in the morning — once you learn what cyberattacks orchestrated by nation states can do, we guarantee that you won’t be able to sleep at all.
Kim Zetter tells the real story of the so-called “world’s first cyberweapon” — the Stuxnet virus. Countdown to Zero Day provides the history of cyberwarfare, examines the threat of zero-day exploits, explores the potential damage of Stuxnet-type attacks, and ultimately details how the virus managed to wreak havoc at a facility tied to Iran’s nuclear program.
The book offers a chilling glimpse into humanity’s next battlefield, showing how attacks in cyberspace can paralyze our infrastructure and cause real physical harm. Just be warned — you might never look at your computer in the same way again.
The Hacker and the State: Cyber Attacks and the New Normal of Geopolitics
Author: Ben Buchanan
Rounding out our collection of books on cyberespionage and cyberwarfare is Ben Buchanan’s The Hacker and the State. Unlike the other books on this life, The Hacker and the State doesn’t focus on just one specific incident — rather, Buchanan opts to provide an overview of the larger-scale struggle between nation states in cyberscape.
Buchanan’s book reveals how state-sponsored hacker groups execute cyberattacks to manipulate and deceive intelligence agencies, including tapping undersea cables and orchestrating widespread blackouts. Using simple prose, he explains the tools and techniques used by attackers, as well as any countermeasures developed by security professionals.
The Hacker and the State is an excellent primer on cyberwarfare, and one of the best cybersecurity books for anyone with an interest in international politics.
Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World
Author: Joseph Menn
Cult of the Dead Cow is the story of the eponymous elite hacker group’s efforts to change the world for the better. The Cult of the Dead Cow were the pioneers of hacktivism, using their hacking expertise to raise public awareness and highlight pressing cybersecurity issues.
Among many other things, the organization developed a groundbreaking tool (at least at the time) for testing password security, took part in the development of The Onion Router (Tor), built cybersecurity tools, advised Bill Clinton, and created advanced techniques for remote PC control. The group is still active today.
Cult of the Dead Cow is an inspiring read, showing how hacking doesn’t have to be tied to criminal activity. It’s one of the best cybersecurity books to read if you want to wash down the bitter aftertaste of black hat escapades and remind yourself that there are good guys out there, too.
The Hardware Hacker: Adventures in Making and Breaking Hardware
Author: Andrew “bunnie” Huang
Most books on cybersecurity focus only on threats to information security. Andrew Huang, who often goes by his hacker handle “bunnie,” does the opposite — he examines the security placed on proprietary hardware, exploring how hackers can break it to reverse-engineer devices.
The Hardware Hacker is a collection of Huang’s essays and interviews on the topic of hacking hardware, including thoughts on the legality of reverse engineering and the differences in intellectual property laws. To illustrate his points, Huang frequently includes personal anecdotes from his time in China’s underground factories, where he worked as a hardware cracker.
The Hardware Hacker may not help you protect your device against theft, but it’s still worth a read. If nothing else, it shows you what expensive measures big businesses take to protect their intellectual property — and how they can be broken using simple chop-shop magic.
Cyber Wars: Hacks that Shocked the Business World
Author: Charles Arthur
Unlike the rest of the books in this list, Cyber Wars does not break new ground. The data breaches in the book have been covered in other media before — in fact, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find their stories online. So why did we pick Cyber Wars as one of our best cybersecurity books?
The devil is in the details, if you’ll pardon the pun. Charles Arthur examines each cybersecurity breach under a microscope, exploring the tools used, mistakes made, and the ultimate consequences of the attack. Crucially, Arthur also offers his thoughts on how these cyberattacks (or at least the damage) could have been prevented, making Cyber Wars read less like an after-action report and more of a guide on how to implement the lessons learned.
It’s also a great read from start to finish, with stories such as how hackers stealing credit card details in a TK Maxx parking lot eventually cost the company a billion dollars, or how a phishing attack against the Clinton election campaign staff influenced the 2016 US presidential election.
7 best books on cybersecurity theory and practice
The following books by cybersecurity experts will help you understand what makes the modern cyberscape tick — and how you can break it apart.
The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data
Authors: Kevin Mitnick and Robert Vamosi
Kevin Mitnick’s such a legend that we just had to feature him on our list twice. While Ghost in the Wire is a real account of Mitnick’s black hat career, The Art of Invisibility is a collection of the master hacker’s observations on cybersecurity in the two decades since his release from prison.
Mitnick paints a picture of a world where your privacy is constantly under assault by the authorities, marketing departments, and criminals. Worst of all, you’re probably not even aware of it — by hastily clicking “Agree” or carelessly signing a contract, you can legally let snoops into your private life.
The Art of Invisibility offers practical advice on what you can do online and in real life to protect your privacy. Mitnick provides simple step-by-step instructions on how to change your habits and keep prying eyes out of your digital life, including several advanced techniques for privacy-conscious individuals. All in all, The Art of Invisibility is an eye-opener for anyone who thinks they’re beneath notice online.
Hacking: The Art of Exploitation
Author: Jon Erickson
Jon Erickson opens Hacking: The Art of Exploitation by stating that “[t]he goal of this book is to share the art of hacking with everyone.” And over the course of nearly 500 pages, he succeeds in doing just that.
Erickson presents hacking as creative problem solving — after all, cyberattacks rely on unconventional approaches to established cybersecurity measures. The book stresses the need for strong programming fundamentals for hacking, showing how a creative use of common tools can defeat even sophisticated systems.
Hacking: The Art of Exploitation also lets readers see cybersecurity from a hacker’s perspective with practical examples. It also teaches you how hackers execute cyberattacks like buffer overflows and TCP hijacking, letting you try these exploits on your own in a secure environment.
Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking
Author: Christopher Hadnagy
The weakest link in cybersecurity is you. Even the most sophisticated cybersecurity systems backed by next-gen encryption are prone to human error — why spend a million years cracking code when you can just ask politely for access?
Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking focuses on the techniques hackers use to manipulate their victims. Human beings are not machines, but even we follow certain rules — which means that our behavior can be exploited by those in the know. Christopher Hadnagy shows how even common social engineering tricks can fool trained corporate security.
Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking is simply one of the best cybersecurity books if you’re interested in protecting yourself against phishing and other online cons. It’s also a surprisingly good manual on how to improve your social skills — many of the techniques described in the book can help you make friends and influence people.
Click Here to Kill Everybody: Security and Survival in a Hyper-Connected World
Author: Bruce Schneier
We don’t like book titles that scream “clickbait!” — but in this case, the words of renowned cryptographer and cybersecurity ace Bruce Schneier are eerily prophetic.
Click Here to Kill Everybody explores how the growing Internet of Things (IoT) can be compromised to directly threaten our livelihoods — or even our lives. Our devices are becoming increasingly interconnected, meaning we’re edging closer to the day where even a single successful cyberattack can cause a catastrophic domino effect.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Click Here to Kill Everybody examines the economical, political, and technological reasons why the current cybersecurity landscape is the way it is, and offers practical solutions to the problems faced. And no — none of them involve wearing a tinfoil hat.
Penetration Testing: A Hands-On Introduction to Hacking
Author: Georgia Weidman
Whereas Hacking: The Art of Exploitation teaches you how to be creative to exploit system vulnerabilities, Georgia Weidman’s Penetration Testing: A Hands-On Introduction to Hacking is a no-nonsense guide to common penetration testing tools and techniques. The book even comes with instructions on how to set up your own cybersecurity lab to try hacking for yourself.
Weidman shows you how to execute common cyberattacks, such as brute-forcing a password, performing lateral movement within a network, and launching exploits using the Metasploit Framework. She then explains how these hacking techniques are used by professional penetration testers to detect vulnerabilities and assess an organization’s ability to withstand attack.
Penetration Testing: A Hands-On Introduction to Hacking is not just a great reference book for penetration testers — it is one of the best cybersecurity books for anyone. By trying out hacker techniques yourself in the cybersecurity lab, you’ll come to appreciate just how vulnerable we are online.
Advanced Penetration Testing: Hacking the World’s Most Secure Networks
Author: Wil Allsopp
True to its name, Advanced Penetration Testing: Hacking the World’s Most Secure Networks takes penetration testing to the next level. Moving beyond direct attacks by low-level hackers, Wil Allsopp explains how the really dangerous cybercriminals can combine social engineering, exploits, and sophisticated malware to break into secured environments.
A fair warning: while the book doesn’t go into excessive technical details when covering advanced penetration testing techniques, you still need a firm grasp of network security secrets and coding to appreciate the examples provided. Just keep that in mind if you’re shopping for the best cybersecurity books to give to someone as a gift.
SSL/TLS Under Lock and Key: A Guide to Understanding SSL/TLS Cryptography
Authors: Paul Baka and Jeremy Schatten
Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encryption and its modern cousin, Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption, are essential to protecting your data over computer networks. Trouble is, encryption is a tricky subject that can confuse even seasoned IT professionals — nevermind the millions of people who only use the internet for email and Facebook.
Fortunately, SSL/TLS Under Lock and Key explains encryption in a way that is accessible to both novices and experts. The book is divided into two halves — the first covers cryptography basics, while the second outlines the common processes involved in SSL/TLS encryption. Baka and Schatten gently guide the reader from theory to practice, explaining core concepts in simple language along the way.