Reviewing a tech book technically makes you a peer reviewer…

    If you have been in the digital forensics world for more than a day, then you know about peer reviews of analysis reports.  If you have ‘only’ been doing IR work where forensics isn't the main point (as in taking evidence collection all the way to court), then you may not be reading reports of opposing experts.  Anyway, the opposing expert peer review is one of the scariest reviews of all since the reader, which is again, the opposing expert, tries to find holes in your work.  The peer review is so effective to push toward doing a good job that I think it prevents errors by the examiner more than it does help opposing experts find errors of the examiner.  Peer reviews take different shapes depending on where it is being done (review of a book draft, review of a report, etc...) but in general, a peer review is checking the accuracy of the written words.

    Academia has always been under the constant worry of peer reviews.  One professor's journal may be peer reviewed by dozens of other professors in the same field, with the end result being seen by the public, whether good or bad. Peer reviews are scary, not for the sake that you made a mistake, but that maybe you could have missed something important that someone else points out to you.

    If you read a tech book and write a review of it (formally in an essay/journal, or informally on social media), consider yourself a peer reviewer of tech writings.  That which you say, based on what you read, is a peer review of that material.  Think about that for a second.  If you are in the field of the book you are reviewing, you practically are tech reviewing that book for accuracy (so make sure you are correct!).  That is a good thing for you as it boosts your experience in the field.  Always be the expert on the stand who can say, “I’ve read x number of forensic books and have given x number peer reviews on social media, Amazon, essays, etc….”.  If for nothing else, this shows more than that you just read books.  You read for accuracy and give public review of your findings. Nice.

    There is some stress in writing a peer review because you have to be correct in your claims.  Sure, maybe some things in the book could have been done a different way, but was it the wrong way?  The manner in which you come across in a peer review is important too.  Crass and rude really doesn't make you look great on the stand if you slam a book or paper.  You can get the point across just as well by being professional.

    Writing books takes no back seat to peer review stress, especially when it comes to technical books.  Not only does the grammar get combed by reviewers, but the actual technical details get sliced and diced.  Was the information correct? Was it current and up-to-date?  Is there any other information that negates what was written in the book?

    So, to get any positive reviews makes for a good day.  Not for the sake of ego, but for the sake of having done it right so others can benefit from the information.  Writing is certainly not about making money as  much as it is putting yourself out there to share what you have learned at the risk of having your work examined under a microscope by an unhappy camper.

    b2ap3_thumbnail_HBTK.JPGWhich brings me to my latest reviews for Hiding Behind the Keyboard.  This is my third tech book (more to come in both nonfiction and fiction) and with each book, I have always cautiously looked at Amazon book reviews each time.  Not that I have written anything inaccurate, inappropriate, or misleading, but that I just want to have written something useful in a topic that I wish existed when I started out in the digital forensics field.  My best analogy of what it is like to write a book is to walk outside to your mailbox nude and then check Facebook to see what people say about you…then do it again.  At least I don't have a Facebook account...

    So far, the reviews for my latest book show that I did a good job (my gratitude to the reviewers).

And that brings me to another point of this post. 

    One of the social media reviewers is actually in a case study in the book.  Higinio Ochoa read and reviewed my book in a Tweet (as seen below).   


    You will have to check the Internet to get Hig’s story, or read it my book…  Suffice to say he was a hacker who was caught, and then ended up as one of the case studies in my book.  Positive reviews from forensic experts are great, but so are reviews from former hackers that can double-validate the work.  Like I said, it takes a lot of guts to write a book and almost as much guts to peer review it in public.  That’s what we are doing when we write a review of a tech book.  We are all peer reviewers.


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Books written by practitioners are many times better than those written by those who 'never done it'

Books written by practitioners are many times better than those written by those who 'never done it'

Many of Syngress published books I’ve read are those written by people simply writing about how they do their job…while they are doing their job.   They are probably not writing while they are physically doing their work, but you know what I mean.

With my first book, Placing the Suspect Behind the Keyboard, I was consulting on a criminal cyber harassment case, two arson cases, and several civil litigation projects. In three of the cases during writing the book, the main goal was identifying users behind the keyboard (in one case, behind a mobile device).  In addition to doing what I knew from my law enforcement detective days, I conferred with experts for tips and tricks on tracking Internet users.  I was writing the book while doing the work.

My current book, Hiding the Behind the Keyboard, was virtually the same, however, this time with a co-author (John Bair). While writing the book, there were multiple interruptions of having to do work in the real-world outside of typing and testing theories. While John was working homicides and examining mobile devices in those cases, I was consulting on employee matters where unidentified employees were creating havoc with their company by being anonymous online. It is one thing to create a perfect scenario to test a theory and quite another to have actual evidence on an active case.  Again, this was another book of authors writing what they do on a daily basis.

I write about this only because I remind myself regularly of college courses I have taken in digital forensics where the required books not only cost an arm and a leg, but were written by academia, not active practitioners.  I’ve even taken a computer forensics course from a community college where the professor had not done one forensic exam…not a single one.  The professor did not even know how to connect a hardware write-blocker to a hard drive. I kid you not.  

I’m not a Syngress employee, but I do like their books. The cost may seem high for some of the books, but it is still about half the price of a college text in the same subject matter.  But the biggest difference is how the books read. I so much prefer reading a book that simply says, “This is how you do it in the real world”. I do not prefer books that speak in terms of an idealized theory.  Reminds me of my Field Training Officers in patrol telling me to forget what I learned at the academy because they were going to teach me what works on the street, in real life.  The best thing I like about the Syngress books is that I can read what the experts are using day-to-day in their own words.

And year after year, I check to see the new titles that come out and hope that Syngress changes their book covers from the previous year.  This year, there are more than a few titles that I have already pre-ordered and will have on hand for the next conference to have signed by the authors.  The cover design change was probably a bit overdue, but glad it has changed.

The discounts are nice too when you have more than a few books you want to buy...



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Tech Talk Can Get You Lost in Lingo

Tech Talk Can Get You Lost in Lingo

    Every career and academic field has its own “lingo” to the extent that a conversation buried deep in lingo sounds like a foreign language. I have experienced military lingo, law enforcement lingo, and technical lingo in my life to the point that I practically dream in acronyms, speak with words not recognized by Webster’s Dictionary, and instantly recognize the glazed-over look when speaking to an non-native lingo listener.

                The reasons for individualized lingo range from the coolness factor such “oh dark thirty”  in order to express time as ‘really damn early’ to efficiency such as using “HMMWV” instead of saying “High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle”.  Many acronyms are spoken as works when gives an added effect of the listener not having a clue of what you are talking about.  For example, “I’m going to pick up a hum-v” means “I’m going to pick up a high mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicle”. Even in law enforcement, the acronyms can irritate the most patient listener if they are not in the club.


                There are two situations where lingo can get you killed, or at least make you feel like you are getting killed. One is in court. The other in your writing.

                Getting killed in court by lingo as a witness is painful. In fact, I’ve seen witnesses get physically ill as if the roach coach burrito eaten at lunch has suddenly reached its final destination in all its glory. Getting beat up on the stand by an attorney or judge is so unpleasant, that time actually slows to a stop and you wonder why you even got up that morning. Using lingo on the stand can give you a bad case of ‘why did I say that?” when being cross examined.

                I talk about lingo today, because I recently experienced one of the best cases of using lingo in all the wrong ways in a federal district court.  I gave my testimony first as the defense expert in a class action lawsuit, and spoke as simply as I could to make sure the judge understood what I intended to say. Then the opposing expert was called. One of the attorneys asked her a question, she answered, but her answer was not only complicated, it was complex, full of lingo, and I even felt a sway of arrogance. I barely understood what she said and took notes to make sure I got correct what she said.


                Then the beating started. The judge asked her to repeat her answer. She did. Then the judge asked her the same question by rephrasing it and asked for a better explaination. The expert answered again but it sounded even more complex. After three more tries with increasing tension and the judge telling the witness that she does not understand the answer, the judge turned to me at the back of the courtroom and said, “Can you tell me what she is trying to say?”

                That is when I knew this cross country trip for court was worth the trip. I translated the opposing expert’s answer, the judge understood it, and the opposing expert said I was correct.  Boom. Lingo killed that day, but luckily it didn’t kill me.

                The other place where lingo can kill is in writing. I’ve written more police reports and affidavits for search warrants than I could ever count and the one thing I learned is to keep lingo out unless it is pertinent, relevant, and understandable. Jurors don’t get lingo and much of what they hear in the movies is incorrect or misused. Judges don’t like it either.  Don’t be the only person in the room that understands what you are saying…

In fiction books where computer technology is a key element or theme, using lingo without explanation is like using a foreign language to frustrate a reader. I say this because I just read an unnamed book that when I read it, I had to really slow down my reading in order to understand what was being described. I don’t like reading slow...which means I won’t finish reading it if I don’t have to.

It is one thing to use a technical term in a sentence, but there comes a point that when the majority of words in a sentence are acronyms and “words” not found in a dictionary, the reader becomes lost and frustrated. That’s not good. It’s not good for reports, testimony, or fiction writing. Nonfiction technical writing is a little different since generally, the reader of a technical writing is a technical person.  For those types of writing, give the definition once and move on since the audience is a technical reader audience. In the other types, even though you give the definition once, the reader/listener is going to forget by the time the uncommon word or acronym is used again. So be sparse in the lingo unless it really matters or that it is used so often, your reader won’t be frustrated trying to figure out what it means.

I’ve given a few talks of putting ‘cybercrime’ into writing for fiction authors who are not computer experts.  Some of the talk is showing what forensics look like (hint: it’s not like what you see in James Bond…) as well as how to use technical terms without turning off the reader or sounding like you don’t know what you are talking about. For me, when I read, I just want to read without having to say to myself, “Excuse me, that’s not how Tor works…”.

Remember, lingo kills.

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