Regardless of your experience in cyber security, we can all agree that hacking is getting more sophisticated. While we keep developing new ways to secure our networks and encrypt our data, there will always be malicious attackers to outpace us.
It’s reasonable to suggest that you’ll probably never stop learning about cyber security, even after you graduate! That’s why keeping up to speed on the latest movements in the sphere is so important. However, getting a solid grounding in how hackers have brought systems to their knees in decades past is just as important.
In this guide, we’ll take you through our top ten picks for books that really dive deep into cyber security principles – and even a few hacking tricks to give you some insider knowledge. Before that, however, we’ll consider why topping up your education with a bibliography is worth your time and effort.
If you’re serious about wanting to study an online masters in cybersecurity (at bodies such as St. Bonaventure University, for example), you’re going to need to make some room on your bookshelf for some bedtime reading.
Why read cyber security books while studying?
While you’re likely to pore through various books and studies while pursuing your degree, it’s always healthy to back up your knowledge. This is even more important if you want to go far in the industry.
The best cyber security and hacking books offer details on historical cases and the ethics behind perceived malicious attacks. You’ll also gain an appreciation for different techniques and tricks, even if some are now a little outdated in the modern climate.
Two main schools of people write the best hacking and security books. School one, of course, is the cyber security professional—those network experts who have spent time designing complex systems and fighting back against seemingly-unstoppable attacks. They have plenty of stories to tell, and you’ll benefit from hearing them.
Of course, there’s also the “black hat” side of things. Many of the most interesting cyber security books come from reformed hackers and malware coders. These are people who may also continue to hack for ethical reasons. Regardless, it’s healthy to get a balance from either side, for technique as much as for ideology.
Before you dive into any of the books we recommend here, however, be careful not to rely on them solely for your studies. You cannot replace an in-depth degree (online or in person) with a few books.
A cyber security degree will not only give you technical and historical knowledge on hacking but will also help you flex your physical networking skills. There’s also the fact that you’ll communicate directly with seasoned experts who guide the courses.
So, make sure to use the books we recommend purely as additional reading on top of your studies. In many cases, you’ll find the books suggested are on university reading lists already.
Cyber security books you’ll want to dive into
If you really want to prepare for your upcoming cyber security course, make sure to grab these books first. They’re widely available online as well as to borrow from educational and local libraries.
Also be sure to check out online discussions on these books as well as cyber security podcasts to help flesh out your knowledge and appreciation for the field.
Let’s get cracking – or is that hacking?
Hacking Exposed – Stuart McClure, Joel Scambray, and George Kurtz
McClure, Scambray, and Kurtz are all seasoned experts in their respective digital fields, and Hacking Exposed remains something of an encyclopedia on how to get into the mindset of a hacker. This is a handbook that many network developers rely on to help strengthen their defenses against the great unknown.
It’s a book that benefits from several editions and updates, meaning it always refreshes as technology evolves. From quashing malicious code to fortifying a variety of different network standards, the volume continues to sell massively all over the world.
We highly recommend this book both as a keen insight into how hacking works as well as a checklist on how to better protect your networks. If you’re studying cyber security, this book is a fantastic springboard for getting into more complex applications and theories, too.
Black Hat Python – Justin Seitz
As the name of the book suggests, Seitz’s book revolves largely around how hackers use Python coding to exploit vulnerabilities. He’s also the author of another book, Gray Hat Python, which further details Python’s place in security analytics.
This book, however, is a fantastic read for any student interested in the “dark side” of programming languages (within reason, of course). Seitz goes into great detail on how to prepare for and combat classic Python exploits, such as detecting keylogging and intercepting trojans.
Black Hat Python travels deep into the methodology of the modern hacker and exposes various tricks still used to this day. While you may not necessarily cover Python in explicit detail in your given courses, this book gives you useful background in how even innocuous code can become harmful over time.
Cybersecurity and Cyberwar: What Everyone Needs to Know – P.W. Singer and Allan Friedman
The name of this book probably goes a little “sci-fi” on the face of things, but it’s a fascinating read for all cyber security fanatics. Singer and Friedman first published this tome in 2014, though their thoughts and fears on the future of cyber security remain stark and relevant even in 2023.
The authors explore a broad history of cyberspace and discuss various hypothetical ways we can protect ourselves against emerging threats. As the book’s name suggests, we could be heading into an all-out online “war” – and how many of us are truly prepared?
Crucially, the authors claim that continued advances in hacking and malicious attacks are pushing us further toward conflict fought entirely online. Even now, we’re seeing governmental and military powers getting hacked and intercepted by rogue agents.
Again, while the idea behind this book may seem a little fantastical to some, it’s becoming increasingly relevant. This book proves to be a great basis for learning more about a potential “dark future” should we fail to take cyber security seriously en masse in the years to come.
The Art of Deception – Kevin Mitnick
Kevin Mitnick is arguably one of the most famous – if not infamous – names in the industry (he’s a seasoned hacker). This is only one of two books we’re recommending from the author, but it’s one of the most important if you want to know more about the mindsets of hackers.
Mitnick spent time in prison for his exploits in the late 90s, and in the decades intervening he has rehabilitated himself as an ethical source of knowledge relied on the world over. This book is one of the most intriguing in the collection as it balances the viewpoints between hackers and victims alike.
The author pulls no punches when identifying areas in modern cyber security that are poorly prepared to fight against evolving hacking attempts and exploits. However, this is by no means a tome full of complaints without solutions.
In fact, Mitnick’s unique experiences and insights provide some of the most actionable advice you’ll read apart from studying for a degree in cyber security. It’s highly likely course developers will recommend Mitnick’s work to you as you start getting into your studies.
This is a superb book for beginners and advanced learners alike – Mitnick lays down his knowledge flat and isn’t afraid to be brutally honest.
Network Security Bible – Eric Cole
Eric Cole’s experienced and educated voice is one that millions of cyber security students trust the world over. His Network Security Bible is a staple text on many university reading lists, but just in case yours doesn’t include it, make sure to add the book to your arsenal nonetheless.
Cole takes an A-Z approach to network security, meaning it’s ideal for newbie security specialists learning about base techniques and protections for the first time. It’s fantastic for learning about the basic principles of network security and how to keep one’s network fully secured in light of evolving threats.
Although older editions of the Network Security Bible may now be outdated thanks to the onward march of technological evolution, it’s still a handy book to have nearby. Cole’s easy-to-understand definitions and explorations of principles will help guide you through the early days of your education and may also help you appreciate some of the more complex techniques defined by the likes of Mitnick.
Don’t rely on Cole’s book wholesale, but do have it at hand as a crucial resource when you need to refresh your knowledge. As always, opt for the latest volume if possible.
Practical Malware Analysis: The Hands-On Guide to Dissecting Malicious Software – Michael Sikorski and Andrew Honig
As the title of the book suggests, Sikorski and Honig’s guide dives deep into how you can better analyze and treat malware that commonly heads the way of networks all over the world. Crucially, this is a great book for learning how to stay a step ahead of malicious attackers – and how to keep that lead.
While technology has evolved since this book first debuted, its basic principles remain as solid and reliable as ever. Readers can learn more about how to sidestep common malware trickery (think anti-debugging and obfuscation, for example) and design action plans for future attacks.
What we really like about this book is that it also provides readers with hands-on knowledge about how to work with some of the world’s leading anti-malware systems and analytics crunchers. Again, you’re likely to learn this hands-on via a degree – but it really can help to have that technical grounding before you start.
This book knows that the malware game is always changing, and it doesn’t exist purely to keep ahead of the game. Instead, it offers the groundwork for basic anti-malware principles, ideal for building upon as technology continues to progress.
The Art of Invisibility – Kevin Mitnick and Robert Vamosi
We’re back with Mitnick again, and for good reason. The “world’s most famous hacker” produced this book in 2017, and it dives into secrets that the average technology user probably isn’t aware of. Reading this book is much like receiving a series of trade or societal secrets you were never supposed to know about.
What’s really interesting about this book is who it’s written for. Mitnick has produced The Art of Invisibility for everyday readers, not necessarily those who are studying to get into cyber security careers. As such, it’s a “plug and play” style book that provides lots of helpful data to everyday consumers and tech users.
That may not seem completely relevant to a cyber security degree, but Mitnick’s insight is always worth receiving, and what’s more, the layman approach will help you digest some of the more complex insights a little more easily. It’s a great companion piece to The Art of Deception.
Ethical Hacking – Daniel G. Graham
Described as something of a “crash course,” Graham’s book is an oddity in this list as it’s almost a hacker’s how-to guide. However, it’s written with ethical practice in mind and is highly useful to those fighting against hacking, not just those who want to start ethical hacking for themselves.
As such, you can expect a different set of instructions in this book compared with those we’ve briefly reviewed above. This is also a book that’s crafted with feedback from cyber security students in mind, meaning it’s likely to fit in well with the rest of your reading list (depending on where you study).
Some may feel that Graham’s book is a little risky; however, it’s written with analysts, students, and ethical hackers in mind. We feel it’s another amazing insight into the other side of cyber security, which (for often good reasons) receives a bad rap.
Technology is still evolving, but the principles and techniques explored in Ethical Hacking are just as useful as they were the day they hit bookshelves. Give it a look before you sign up for a course, and be sure to refer to it while you study.
Hacking: The Art of Exploitation – Jon Erickson
Erickson’s book follows a similar line of thought to many of the books already explored above, but at the same time, makes some of the more complex issues accessible to the layman reader. This is an ideal book to get stuck into if you’re serious about learning the fundamentals and then some.
This book goes deep on how to program and manage security systems as well as how to outsmart them. It’s a terrific dive into both sides of the hacking argument, and it gives a broad picture of what to expect from cyber security as the years go by.
Again, this is a book written some time ago, meaning threats and technology both evolved since its first edition. That said, it’s an excellent top-up for anyone concerned with the foundations of cyber security and who may find other volumes a little dense. We highly recommend this book purely because it offers a no-frills perspective, and it’s therefore the perfect companion to a degree in cyber security.
Social Engineering: The Science of Human Hacking – Christopher Hadnagy
Finally, this last book goes beyond the technical trickery most of the other volumes in our list revolve around and instead delves into psychology. Hadnagy explores how hackers can gain trust simply through basic social engineering – where they effectively “ask for access” instead of trying to break in.
Social engineering is a somewhat worrying technique that scammers have used for decades. Hadnagy exposes some of the more cunning styles used over the years and explains how this can tie into how we protect our technology.
No, this isn’t explicitly a cyber security book, but it does offer incredible insights into how our minds work similarly to our networks. These principles are extremely important to learn and refer to while studying any security disciplines or degrees.
This is also a great book for anyone looking to protect themselves against everyday hacks, pranks, and hoaxes. It may not appear on every university reading list, so be sure to grab a copy and read up before your first semester.
As mentioned, reading alone is never going to be a replacement for a hands-on cyber security degree. However, if you want to inch ahead and learn more about cyber security solutions and the history of hacking, it pays to do some background research.
If you don’t see any of these books in your reading list for the semester ahead, invest in them regardless. We think they offer fantastic insights and legs-up into the intricacies of network protection and why it’s so important to keep ahead of hackers (ethical or otherwise).
Is your favorite book or author on our list? Maybe it’s worth extending your bookshelf – take a look at your local library or fill up your Amazon cart and start immersing yourself in cyber security staples.