A technothriller for the malware and Stuxnet era
An airliner’s controls abruptly fail mid-flight over the Atlantic. An oil tanker runs aground in Japan when its navigational system suddenly stops dead. Hospitals everywhere have to abandon their computer databases when patients die after being administered incorrect dosages of their medicine. In the Midwest, a nuclear power plant nearly becomes the next Chernobyl when its cooling systems malfunction.
At first, these random computer failures seem like unrelated events. But Jeff Aiken, a former government analyst who quit in disgust after witnessing the gross errors that led up to 9/11, thinks otherwise. Jeff fears a more serious cyber terrorism attack targeting the United States computer infrastructure is already under way. And as other menacing computer malfunctions pop up around the world, some with deadly results, he realizes that there isn’t much time if he hopes to prevent an international catastrophe.
Written by a global authority on cyber security, Zero Day presents a chilling “what if” scenario that, in a world completely reliant on technology, is more than possible today - it’s a cataclysmic disaster just waiting to happen.
©2011 Mark Russinovich (P)2012 Macmillan Audio
I love to read and since 2011 I have been mostly listening to audiobooks because oftentimes there is nothing like a good narrator.
I've been looking for computer or Internet tech thriller but surprisingly in this Internet Age, there are surprisingly few. This nove so far is one of my favorites. I loved Daemon by Daniel Suarez and the sequel Freedom and when I finished them, I went looking for more. This Jeff Aiken Novel was what I found. I wasn't disappointed although I must add that it is hard following a book like Daemon so that says a lot for this author and this book.
I did like this better than Daemon in one respect, the author went into the tech details much more than I'm used to seeing in this small genre and for that I am glad. I can't say enough how much I enjoyed reading parts such as when our protagonist Jeff worked his way through the code on the machine at the law firm or how he describes how script kiddies use buffer overflow bugs to execute code. He explains it in such a way that you don't have to be a computer scientist to understand him. My wife confirmed that for me because she isn't a "computer person" as she puts it, while I am a system and network admin and we both enjoyed it equally.
One thing I'd like to note, because of what I said above and how he goes into detail regarding things like buffer overflows, etc; This is not a hacker instruction guide. You won't learn how to hack by reading this book. Sure, you might get a general idea or even come up with a decent flowchart on what and how to do certain things but I think Mark Russinovich does an awesome job going into the tech stuff while keeping the non-tech audience interested.
I also enjoy the author's writing style. It isn't so much a lyrical style as much as he explains things and tells the story in such a way that lets you concentrate on the story instead of reading or the listening. Even with audiobooks, I often find myself rewinding or playing parts over again because I just didn't get something. I didn't do that at all with this book, well....unless our dog jumped in my lap or pulled my pant leg wanting to go out. :)
So, I'm not normally one for mysteries, or thrillers. But I was inspired to check this one out from a recommendation of one of the security podcast hosts I listen to, Steve Gibson of "Security Now". Besides, I'm in between book series at the moment, and awaiting the release of the much anticipated Babylon Wakes of the Expanse series. Plus, the book Zero Day falls into the sub category of Cyber Thriller. (adding cyber to the theme makes it more desirable) So having recently read the Sprawl trilogy by William Gibson, and having been searching for that next step but with a more down to earth, current theme, I recalled the Zero Day recommendation from Steve G. earlier.
I'll say this, security expert and the author of this book, must have expected this to be picked up as a movie or made for tv series or something, because it reads like a movie script. I can seriously see this (and I'm surprised it hasn't already) being raked into a screenplay and released. The idea behind the book is fascinating, and with all due respect really should be examined further in depth on a serious note. Mark Russinovich the author proposes a scary, and down right menacing real life threat. What if our national grid, and various agencies and corporations were suddenly hit with a virus that was kit bashed together? The virus in the book that cobbled together and eventually unleashed on the US isn't even the most well written software, but scarily enough, it proves more than capable of doing immense damage as well as killing a score of people in the process. A hospital, airliner, law firm, manufacturing plant, all struck with the virus and suffer the often fatal aftermath.
The main character we follow is Jeff Aiken who seems like an all around nice, smart security analyst. He's no fighter, he gets more of a workout from his brain than from his arms. Opposite him is a fellow IT investigator, Daryl Haugen. Daryl, female, and a prior co-worker with Jeff, is put on the case, to investigate a seemingly random glitch at the site of the hospital attack. Jeff, now working for a different firm than Daryl is put on the task of looking into an Agency's computer network, also hit with the virus. At the initial start both don't realize, but soon come to find out...that both their assignments are two sides of the same virus. This brings them to work together in a tag team to uncover what this virus is...how it got there...and most importantly who was behind it.
As an aside...the narration for the book is decent, but the narrator really does some cringe worth female voices. Spoken at normal tones they sound ok, but once any emotion was tried, it just came off sounding icky.
We're also given a host of other characters including Jeff's douchebag, arrogant, selfish, and womanizing boss, George Carlton. From the gitgo, we're given the impression that Mr. Carlton is a dick...just how much of a dick is exasperated as the story goes on, and we learn more and more of the level of greed that this guy has. Carlton, working as a sort of head of a department security in what's deemed as the Division of Cyber Security. He basically and foolishly makes a deal to supply information, credentials, and the like to a bunch of Arab characters, posing as Frenchmen. While Carlton knows the work they do, the extent of their treachery remains hidden. Despite this it's hard to feel sorry for Carlton as we're given a backstory of him and his history with Jeff Aiken. Apparently Jeff, in his infinite foresight, predicted something very big happening in the week of September 11th, 2001, and really stressed that George raise the matter up the gov't ladder, to get someone to take a look. He basically ignores Jeff's request and the matter is forgotten. Not only do the Sept 11th attacks occur, but they take the life of his fiance...
Now, I'm going to stop here and backtrack a bit. While this all sounds good on paper... the way Mark Russinovich actually executes it, is..flat. What I mean by that is it never comes off to me as emotional, or shocking, or made me feel for any of the characters. One main point I bring up here is Jeff's fiance's death on 9/11. It makes such little sense, I couldn't take it very seriously. Jeff, flustered that George sat on the reports of an upcoming attack, makes it known to his would-be wife Cynthia, to stay away from the Towers for a week. Which..she does. Because she knows he works for a cyber security agency and would privy to such threats. On the last day, he friend and co-worker calls her and tells her to come to the freaking Twin Towers for lunch. That day was 9/11.
So you're telling me that she managed to skip work and refrain from going all week... just to cave in for a quick luncheon with a friend? It's New freaking York? You telling me she's risk death, knowing that her husband has ties with informants...for a random restaurant?
Stuff like that irked me to no end. Likewise, the characters in the book just seem uninspired cliche's. I don't have a lot of feeling for Jeff, I mean he's a cool character, in so far as he's been taken from his normal life of analyizing security hacks etc, and put into a more action hero status. Unfortunately this isn't really explored or discussed. He's just literally shifts lifestyles going from a desk jockey to Bruce Willis/Liam Nieson action here.
Another big complaint I had with this book...is one that I didn't *know* I actually had until I opened up the physical copy of the book. (audio book reading native) There is, as you probably would expect given the nature of the book, a fair amount of character dialogue online through IM or chatroom. While in the audio book it's read as normal english, Mark Russ had the 'brilliant' idea of making everyone speaking in 'leet speak. Seriously we're talking about men and women, adults, all typing with words like "cum" instead of come, or liek, 4 instead of for "u no" I mean no one above 11 would type like this. especially anyone professional. I felt increasingly annoyed and aggetated that it was used so much.
Furthermore characters like George, the two Arab agents, Labib and Dufour..Sue..and others are just flat devices for Jeff to work around. Even his new love interest Daryl, I'm just not really feeling for her character. Labib and Dufour, are evil, and we're made not to like them for obvious reasons. They are indeed though master manipulators, also roping in some contacts in Russia. Now despite the lack of character depth... (I do actually like the character of Ivanka..I feel immensely bad for her character as she seems to stumble into one bad situation into another due to her greedy, unthinking husband.) As I was stating, while Mark Russinovich falls short of creating depthful characters, the story and action here is amazing... It really does feel like a thriller movie, Jason Bourne type stuff. The plot unfolds slowly at first, chapters are longer, slower...but by the climax, chapters are only paragraphs at time, flipping back and forth between characters and points of view, but never confusing or leaving you wondering what was going on. The characters all converge and mass, fun, exciting chaos takes place. We're given a wild roller coaster ride as the stakes are explained and characters begin to drop like flies.
While the characters themselves seem a tad lifeless in their backstories, we can't help but still feel a major sense of urgency, and suspense, as the terrorist plot begins to unfold. I found myself rooting for Jeff and Daryl regardless of their flimsy and cliche stories. And I found myself really hoping that the three "bad guys" Labib and Dufour (who each have their own shallow story) meet their demise! And speaking of which, I feel as though the Arab characters weren't really given any fleshed out reason. Well...I guess the reason is the destruction of the infidels..I suppose, but besides the obvious hatred of the West, I just got the sense that the two brothers, were just going along for the ride as well. It seemed more like they were going through all of this trouble with hiring Russian code writers, and Western correspondents, setting up a fake "boiler room" company as an a front to their operation, was all just because they felt like it.
At least with George Carlton's character we're given the fact that he's a lush, womanizing greedy dick. Even that character building is something at least. And as I stated, Ivanka's character was probably the most sympathy inducing in the entire book..you really feel for what she's gone through.
All in all, this book was fun. It was like a summer action movie. That being said, there's something very very serious here that Mark Russinovich themes the plot around. Our security for infrastructure and 'soft targets', is wholly ignored. We're given this in the manifest of the character George Carlton, but it does exists in this country. Much of our infrastructure and utility systems are wide open and would be easy prey. They were built in a time period where literally none of these attacks and systems existed. At that end, the book accomplished directly what it set out to do.. Open your eyes that these system's we've constructed are flawed, and our dependency on them must warrant far far more focus on hardening them. On that front, Well done Russ. I just hope that the next two books in the series see some improvement over character design and dialogue.
Some of the worst written tripe I've ever bothered with. Horrible writing style, mediocre, magical story. A childish, sexist fantasized delusion, through and through.
...The author left a few too many things up to the reader to assume, rather than give explanations or confirm certain dots were connected. The ending also kinda fell flat on its face, it seemed unsatisfying and abrupt. I didn't have any problems with the narration as others have stated.
I thought the storytelling in his book was off topic and not very deep. I'm not sure I'd try another one of Mark's book's without a good recommendation.
Alien Out of the Shadows looks like fun.
I have not, I enjoyed his performance in this book though,.
Straight to DVD.
I thought the book focused far too much on the idea that assassins and violence would come into play in stopping the viruses. Could have used a lot deeper look into the "How" side of things. Instead, it reads more like "Super virus is released, and it works. Computer techs uses their skills to thwart and kill the perpetrators just in time to release signatures to virus vendors." Meh.
I picked up this book because the author is someone I highly respect from the tech world. The points are accurate and the author spices things up a bit. This book needs to be read on Kindle or paper. The narrator reads long stretches of Assembly language code. this turns into 5 minute monologs of hexadecimal figures and computer language that was never designed to be read aloud.
The ending was also anticlimactic and didn't fit entirely with the beginning of the book.
I still recommend reading this book. just do it on Kindle or paper.
I might as well try book 2...hoping for something better
Same. Character. Voices
Not sure why it was determined to say every part of the code in the book to the reader. Mr. Heller must have thought "this is ridiculous" Alot of characters came into the story. The voice narration never changed up much. Everything was about the Russians in the beginning. For instance..."Hey, who stole that bread!?" "Must be the Russians!" This book got boring fast.
Why does every nerd book have sex? Felt like the author was projecting something. Some parts of the book made no sense. It made no sense to the point I am going to listen to book 2 just to get the taste out of my mouth.
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