‘What I’m Reading,’ With Rick Howard, Chief Security Officer for Palo Alto Networks

Posted by Fuel HQ on Sep 20, 2019 12:07:14 PM

Friday, September 20, 2019

book copy

Rick Howard is the chief security officer for Palo Alto Networks, but he’s also known in the cybersecurity community for being an avid reader. Take one look at the Cybersecurity Canon, a project started up by Rick in 2014, and no further evidence is needed.

Whether it’s the latest cybersecurity bestseller or a thriller with tech flair, you’re more likely than not to find a book in Rick’s hands. Read on for his recommendations, as shared in a recent conversation he had with Fuel.



What I’m Reading

1. The Perfect Weapon

Author: David Sanger

The best book I’ve read in a while is “The Perfect Weapon.” This book is about the last 10 years in the cybersecurity landscape. What Sanger points out in the book is that there has been a continuous, low-level cyber conflict between China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and the United States. He documents over 50 campaigns from 2010 to present, and that's just the ones we know about. These are the campaigns that you may have read about in the headlines, but Sanger gives you the details and how they all fit together. This type of cyber conflict is the new face of the world right now, and this book is fantastic. It will give you an update on what the real-world situation is in terms of state-sponsored hacking.

*Before making this his go-to recommendation, Rick previously recommended “The Cuckoo’s Egg,” by Dr. Clifford Stoll, an equally good read.

2. Threat Vector

Author: Tom Clancy

Yes, that Tom Clancy! This is a spy novel where cybersecurity is featured prominently.  What’s great is that it’s realistic — everything that the bad guys and good guys do in this novel, in terms of cyber, is real. It's not the type of Harry Potter magic, where it’s just made up.

3. Cryptonomicon

Author: Neal Stephenson 

This is the best hacker novel of all time, but it is much more than that. It is a two-generational family story, one during WWII and one during the dot com period of the ’90s. It's a gold treasure hunt. It is commando raids in WWII. It is code-breaking at Bletchley Park with Alan Turing. There is a description of how to encode messages in a prison with nothing more than a deck of cards. There is even a section that describes the proper proportions of milk to Captain Crunch cereal. (This is a serious problem that I am glad has finally come to light.) It is also a very big book (over 1,000 pages). You will not knock this out in a weekend. So, enjoy it. Take your time with it. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

4. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age

Author: Kurt Beyer

I had the very good fortune of meeting Grace Hopper when I was in the Army as a young captain. Grace came to my base as an admiral and came to our class. She is fabulous, smart, funny and just amazing. She invented the first compiler, she wrote the first computer manual, she was the second in command at a Navy institution when women weren't invited to do those kinds of jobs. But the book is also a history lesson of the early days of computing, and Admiral Hopper was there at every step.

What’s On My Shelf

5. The Unicorn Project

Author: Gene Kim

“The Unicorn Project” is the follow up to “The Phoenix Project,” which is all about the philosophy of DevOps. I’m very excited about this one.

While this list is just a few of Rick’s recent and upcoming reads, you can follow him and check out more of his recommendations on GoodReads, or visit the Cybersecurity Canon.


3 Tips to Be a Better Reader

Think you don’t have time to read? Think again. We asked Rick to share his tips for diving into a good book.

1. Just start. Even if it’s one or two books a year, your life will be richer. Don’t binge-watch Game of Thrones for the seventh time (six times is fine, but if you are starting again, maybe try to expand your horizons a bit). Here is a tip. When you get into bed, take 30 minutes and read something before you fall asleep. In no time at all, you will get through that first book. Watch out though, you might start to enjoy it.

2. Find something you enjoy. Have fun and don’t make it a chore. While I read plenty of cybersecurity books, I also make time for books that bring me pleasure. I just finished reading “Where the Crawdads Sing,” by Delia Owens. It’s this fabulous murder mystery located in the Florida everglades. Cultivate your love for reading by allowing yourself to read things that you love. I personally relish reading anything about zombies. Reading should not be something you feel guilty about because you are not reading about important things. Try to make it your guilty pleasure where you are actually looking forward to sneaking off for 30 minutes to read another chapter.

3. Read to expand your horizons. Reading helps us get out of our own bubble. Whether it’s a book on cybersecurity or something not related to the field, I find the act of reading helps me expand my thinking and keeps me open to new ideas. In a profession like cybersecurity that keeps us on our toes, that’s a must-have skill. As Socrates said, "Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for." ‘Nuff said!


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