Cyberspies: The Secret History of Surveillance, Hacking, and Digital Espionage

  • Published

Cyberspies: The Secret History of Surveillance, Hacking, and Digital Espionage by Gordon Corera. Pegasus Books, 2016, 448 pp.


With accusations of election fraud and the claims of cyber spying on a presidential candidate, what is the truth about cyber spying, and is it something that was simply a claim without any sort of truth or justification, or is cyber spying a real part of the intelligence community’s tools? If cyber spying is truly real, how did such come about, and what impact could it have on today’s societies?


 Author Gordon Corera’s Cyberspies seeks to answer the questions of what cyber spying is, how such developed and its impact in today’s world politically, economically, and in the intelligence communities. The book is partly a historical account, spy thriller, technological warning, and an examination of the future use of cyber-based technology. But the book’s primary emphasis is on the history of the development of cyber spying from the use of cable cutting and the 1929 delivery of a computer to England’s War Office to the debate over the monitoring of Facebook regarding the killing of soldier Lee Rigby in 2013 by extremist Michael Adebowale.

But should we take such a book at face value, read and understand what exactly cyber spying is and how it works? Corera’s credentials as a security correspondent for the BBC News and his documentaries “Crypto Wars” and “Under Attack: Espionage, Sabotage, Subversion and Warfare in the Cyber Age” demonstrate that he knows his field in significant detail, and the information he presents in the book is quite credible and well researched. Regarding the book’s objectivity, Corera portrays the cyber world with a degree of neutrality that’s needed to understand the history of cyber spying and its impact on the world today, using former Central Intelligence Agency employee/contractor Edward Snowden as an example.

Like any book, Cyberspies has its strengths and weaknesses. The strong points of the book are that it provides a comprehensive look at how spying developed, some of the misconceptions about what spying is and its development over time into something more than just being used for military purposes (as in the example used in the “Introduction” chapter of how China used computer espionage to target Western companies for economic purposes and to search for dissenters). Corera provides the reader with a detailed history and an examination of how cyber spying developed to the shock and disbelief caused by the revelations of the collection of data by government agencies by Snowden (out of the belief that such data collection in the years after 9/11 is an invasion of privacy and could be turned against people).

The book’s weaknesses are that while Corera presents his information well and concisely, it can be a little overly detailed for a casual reader (as in the history of how cyber spying first developed), and Corera doesn’t truly detail (which may not be possible) how cyber spying may develop in the future and what that impact may be.

Overall, the book is more inclined for a more specialized audience, primarily those in the intelligence fields or those in cyber espionage and cybersecurity, be they military or private sector. For those not so familiar with the intelligence communities and/or cyber industries, the book can seem overly long in its presentation of cyber spying history and somewhat lacking in its implications for the future. For those in the military intelligence and cybersecurity fields, the book is of considerable value in understanding the history and development of cybersecurity and its use.


Melanie K. Staffeld 
Council Bluffs, Iowa


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."