[techbooks] REVIEW: "Securing Java", Gary McGraw/Edward W. Felten
- BKSECJAV.RVW 990501
"Securing Java", Gary McGraw/Edward W. Felten, 1999, 0-471-31952-X,
%A Gary McGraw gem@...
%A Edward W. Felten felten@...
%C 5353 Dundas Street West, 4th Floor, Etobicoke, ON M9B 6H8
%I John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
%O U$34.99/C$54.50 416-236-4433 fax: 416-236-4448 rlangloi@...
%P 324 p.
%T "Securing Java: Getting Down to Business with Mobile Code"
Unlike Oaks "Java Security" (cf. BKJAVASC.RVW), this book concentrates
on Java in the popular perception: as a means of providing active code
on the Web. As such it is intended not simply for techies, but also
for dedicated users.
Chapter one provides a readily accessible backgrounder, covering
portability, the Internet, the Web, active content, security risks,
other active content systems, and a rough outline of the Java security
model with particular regard to applets. The original Java applet
security model, or "sandbox," is covered in chapter two. The security
model is now complicated by signed code, and chapter three points out
the changes made. Chapter four outlines a number of malicious
applets, but also gives clear directions for disabling Java on both
the Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers. The authors outline a
second class of hostile applets, in chapter five, that are intended to
breach system security and allow an attack to bypass normal security
mechanisms. There are suggestions for improving the security model,
as well as a review of third party attempts to enhance it, in chapter
six. (I was amused to see the slight lifting of the skirts of ICSA
[International Computer Security Association]: the history of the
outfit is a lot more interesting and convoluted even than is portrayed
here.) Chapter seven is directed at programmers, but the advice
provided looks at practices and policies rather than APIs
(Applications Programming Interfaces) and chunks of sample code. A
version of Java specifically designed for Smart Cards is available,
and chapter eight looks at its promises and problems. A recap and
restatement of the major security issues in mobile code is given in
chapter nine. Appendices provide a Java security FAQ, security
resource pointers, and directions on Java code signing.
The text is quite readable. The authors have made a very serious
attempt to ensure that the book does not depend upon previous
technical background. For the most part, they have succeeded. The
diligent reader would be able to understand most of the concepts as
presented, even without having worked with computers or computer
security. However, the key word is "diligent:" it *feels* like a
technical book, and newcomers to the topic may be put off by the
In addition, McGraw and Felten are careful to avoid any bias. They
obviously feel that Java has some worthwhile security measures, but
admit to its faults and point out its shortcomings. This makes the
book extremely useful: much more so than an uncritical paean of
An effective book on an important subject with a wide audience. But
you don't have to take my word for it. You can try before you buy.
The www.securingjava.com site does not simply contain a few press
releases and the errata, but has the whole text of the book online. A
bold step. (You can help justify it by then buying the book.)
copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKSECJAV.RVW 990501
====================== (quote inserted randomly by Pegasus Mailer)
rslade@... rslade@... slade@... p1@...
The client interface is the boundary of trustworthiness.
- Tony Buckland, UBC
http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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