Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War

Fred Kaplan, Simon & Schuster, 352 pages, $28. Fred Kaplan has written a consistently eye-opening history of our government's efforts to manage national security as the Internet and its largely open global communication network expand. The great strengths of"Dark Territory" are the depth of its reporting and the breadth of its ambition. Tackling a subject that, as the current controversy over Apple's standoff with the Justice Department confirms, attracts fierce partisans, Kaplan manages to keep his head and let the breathtaking facts mostly speak for themselves. Who knew that the movies "War Games" and "Sneakers" would have an impact on national security policy? And what were the odds that one of the screenwriters of both films lived a few blocks from the Air Force-funded RAND Corporation?

Although political infighting is a factor, Kaplan concludes that the biggest practical obstacle to progress is the business community. Time and again, "private companies didn't want to spend the money on cyber security, and they resisted all regulations to make them do so." Most "executives had calculated that it cost no more to clean up after a cyberattack than to prevent one in the first place." Kaplan concedes that eventually, when the magnitude of the threat became clear, "the big banks were exceptions to this pattern." But if Kaplan is to be believed, while the dispute between Apple and the government should be decided on its own merits, cybersecurity claims made by corporations should be examined with particular skepticism.