Hacking APIs as part of our security testing is one thing. Understanding how and why our adversaries may do it though is an entirely different beast.
A while back when I wrote about the 5 books every API hacker should read I got several requests for what other books I’d recommend. I have a ton of books that I have read over the years, and it’s hard to pick out just a few. But when I think of the threat actors we are trying to beat to the punch with our API security testing, a few unconventional books surrounding the history and future of cyber warfare come to mind.
And they are great reads to take along as you travel and enjoy the upcoming holidays.
Even better, I bought a few extra copies of my favorite books, and I’m going to give them away to one of my readers. Find out how you can enter at the end of this article.
What the heck does cyber warfare have to do with API security testing?
So before I go through the list of book recommendations, I want to preface that if you are a builder or breaker who wants to conduct API security testing, the reality is understanding the methods and motives of how your adversaries approach and leverage these systems is critical.
You may notice that I recommend a few books that focus on the dark history of cyber munitions, how they are used by state actors, and how politics and the military complex shape how things are today.
That’s by no accident.
These books will open your eyes to the true potential of what happens when your adversaries can exploit the apps and infrastructure you’re responsible for testing. And they may excite or frighten you as you realize the impact of your work.
Book #1: This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race
Author: Nicole Perlroth
Customer Rating: (4.6) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Publisher : Bloomsbury Publishing; 1st edition (February 9, 2021)
Language : English
Hardcover : 528 pages
ISBN-10 : 1635576059
ISBN-13 : 978-1635576054
The United States government has long been the world’s dominant hoarder of zero days, paying top dollar to hackers who are willing and able to sell their exploit code behind the walls of secret classifications and non-disclosure agreements. In the beginning, exploit developers were making thousands; it grew to millions.
Then they lost control of its hoard and the market. And the world shifted.
Now those zero days are in the hands of the vile and villainy across the world who could care less if your votes go missing, your power goes out, or your secrets get shared.
Nicole Perlroth’s book, “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race,” is an in-depth look at the history and current state of cyber warfare. Perlroth, a cybersecurity reporter for The New York Times, provides an insightful perspective on the ever-evolving world of the black and gray markets of zero days, the cyberattacks caused by them, and the threat actors who perpetrate them.
One of the strengths of this book is that Perlroth provides detailed information about events that have received a lot of media coverage, such as the Russian hacks during the 2016 election, as well as events that have received less attention, such as a cyber attack on a small Lithuanian bank in 2015. This allows readers to gain a more comprehensive understanding of cyber warfare around the globe.
Overall, I found “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race” to be an informative and engaging read. It provides a valuable perspective on one of the most complex and rapidly evolving areas of our world.
Book #2: Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War
Author: Fred Kaplan
Customer Rating: (4.5) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (March 28, 2017)
Language : English
Paperback : 352 pages
ISBN-10 : 1476763267
ISBN-13 : 978-1476763262
It’s hard to believe, but back in 1983 the movie WarGames played a critical role in setting in motion the first presidential directive on computer security. After seeing the movie, Ronald Regan asked his top generals if it was even plausible for a kid to hack the Pentagon like that. After finding out it was, it changed how the government thought about computers, software, and security.
In “Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War,” Fred Kaplan provides a detailed history of cyber warfare. Kaplan, a national security reporter for The Washington Post, draws on his years of experience reporting on the subject to provide readers with an in-depth understanding of the origins and evolution of cyber warfare.
Kaplan covers important stories highlighting some of the government’s biggest computer intrusions, including Solar Sunrise, Moonlight Maze, and Operation Buckshot Yankee. His stories explore the players and their personalities and offer an entertaining glimpse of how information warfare squads attack and defend systems all around the world.
One of the strengths of this book is that Kaplan provides detailed information about critical events that have shaped the cyber warfare landscape… including 9/11, the Sony Pictures hack, and even lesser-known incidents like the cyber attack on a vital Saudi petrochemical plant. You can tell he probed the inner corridors of the NSA and top-secret cyber units within the Pentagon to reveal some of the details and secret history of the men and machines behind the hacks.
I found Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War to be an entertaining and easy read. If you’ve ever wondered how US national cyber policy has been crafted over the years, some of the interesting backstories in this book shed light on the process. And exposes the fact for decades offensive security was more important than defense in the halls of the agencies that drive critical decisions.
Book #3: Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers
Author: Andy Greenberg
Customer Rating: (4.7) ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Publisher : Anchor (October 20, 2020)
Language : English
Paperback : 368 pages
ISBN-10 : 0525564632
ISBN-13 : 978-0525564638
When thinking globally about offensive security, cyber warfare, and resulting cyber munitions we can’t leave out Russia. Sandworm, a unit within the Russian military intelligence group (GRU) has been attributed to many of the most impactful cyberattacks from around the globe.
In “Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers,” Andy Greenberg tells the story of the rise of cyber warfare and the hackers who are responsible for it. Greenberg, a reporter for Wired magazine, draws on his years of experience reporting on the subject to provide readers with an in-depth understanding of the origins and evolution of cyber warfare.
In the book, Greenberg covers the sheer ruthlessness with which Sandworm has attacked Ukraine. They have targeted every aspect of Ukrainian society… from government servers to entire media organizations and even transportation hubs. ATMs went dark. Trains didn’t run. And hundreds of thousands of innocent Ukrainians fell into darkness as Russia took out the power grids.
It was a prelude… practice for more nefarious activities to come.
And Greenberg shows that Sandworm’s activities aren’t just limited to Ukraine.
“On the internet, we are all Ukraine,” Greenberg writes. “We all live on the front line.”
The book explores some of the more renowned cyberattacks, like BlackEnergy, Bad Rabbit, and NotPetya, and how Russia weaponized Internet traffic and malware to gain backdoors on victims’ computers all over the world.
Overall, I found “Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers” to be an informative and engaging read. You can learn a lot about the minds of Russian hackers and how patient they can be in finding and exploiting vulnerabilities in the most interesting of places. You know… the software you may very well be responsible for in API security testing.
As you can see from these book recommendations, the history and future of cyber warfare come down to the resiliency of the apps and infrastructure we are responsible for testing.
Adversaries are weaponizing the vulnerabilities in the software and services that run everything from critical infrastructure to coffee dispensing machines. Heck, earlier this year we saw the hacking group Anonymous, with help from the IT Army of Ukraine, cause a physical denial of service in the heart of Moscow by attacking the ride-dispatching APIs of a taxi company.
These three books are great easy reads over the holidays. It may very well open your eyes to WHY it’s so important to think more offensively when API hacking. Entertaining and educational, you should read these books!
Want your own copies of my favorite books?
I have purchased an extra copy of each of these books. I’m going to give them away to one of my readers on November 21st. Head over to https://danaepp.com/giveaway and enter for your chance to add these awesome resources to your own hacking library. I’ll even pay to ship the books anywhere in the world.