Title: Stealing the Network: The Complete Series Collector's Edition Authors: Johnny Long, Ryan Russell, Timothy Mullen (among many others not acknowledged on the cover) Publisher: Syngress Publishing Release Date: May 18th, 2009 ISBN: 978-1597492997
I have just finished a marathon session of reading “Stealing the Network: The Complete Series Collector’s Edition” and I have a very conditional review of it: It’s a must-have if you don’t already own the previous editions of these guilty pleasures. If you are already a fan, however, prepare to be let-down by the compilation.
The stories of the Stealing the Network series entertain in the same way that “war stories” from fellow hackers and security professionals often keeps a more intimate audience’s interest: by mixing intriguing situations with juicy technical detail that can serve as a useful take-away. No one will accuse these books of containing fine literature, but that’s not really the point. The stories are well written enough to keep you wanting to know what will happen next, while the technical information is as accurate as you’re likely to see in fiction. Segments involving hacking are written and illustrated with enough attention to detail and length to serve as introductory educational tutorials for the topics (including web application hacking, reverse engineering, and wireless security). Most of these scenarios are believable as parts of larger-scale operations.
The first book of the series consists of independent short-stories based around characters of the authors’ creation. The other three books in the compilation tell an over-arching story of a larger “operation”, which involves many characters and their independent stories. The second book, “How to Own a Continent”, is probably my favorite, along with the first (“How to Own a Box”), for keeping things simple, technical, and focusing on the individual stories. The third book, “How to Own an Identity” suffers from having worse editing then the rest of the series, and may lose some readers’ interest. The fourth book (“How to Own a Shadow”) reads a lot better, and wraps the overall story up well, however it focuses only on a relative handful of the series’ characters.
As a compilation, this Collector’s Edition leaves much to be desired. While the original description for this edition described the books contained within as being “author-annotated”, this is not the case. The individual books are reproduced exactly as they were in their original editions, with no additional commentary from the authors, and with all the same problems as the originals. For example, screenshots in the first chapter of the first book are the same illegible black squares that were in the original edition of the book published 7 years ago. The annotations along with other features described in the original description (emails, photographs) that would provide a lot of interesting background material, would have made this compilation a must-buy.
The extra content that you are receiving is a brief new forward by Jeff Moss, and a “Final Chapter” by Ryan Russell. The new chapter is about 20 pages long, and gives the story-line a proper ending. I won’t ruin anything about it, but I will say that I enjoyed it. Syngress has promised in the description of the book to make this content available separately in electronic form in six months.
The included DVD is described on the back-cover copy as being “full” of behind-the-scenes stories. In reality, you will only find 20 minutes of interviews with a few of the authors. I enjoyed these interviews, however, much like the print companion, I felt like more should have been done. Also beware that there are problems with the audio on the DVD. When played on my MacBook, there was noticeable crackling/popping in the audio of the DVD. The same noise was present, but less noticeable when played through a stand-alone DVD player through a television.
To summarize, I like the books, and find them as entertaining as I did when they were originally published, and I like the new hardcover binding. I do think that it is unfortunate that the “Stealing the Network: The Complete Series Collector’s Edition” does not meet its potential to be more than the sum of its parts. There seems to have been intent at some point to add value to the set, but it wound up simply being a rough concatenation of the individual books.
If you haven’t read these books, then I very much recommend picking up this set. It’s 1,000 pages of interesting stories and technical material. If you already have the previous editions of the Stealing the Network Series, however, you might find it hard to justify paying for them again.