Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Counting from Zero

Counting from ZeroCounting from Zero by Alan B. Johnston
digital galley provided by author for review
Description from Goodreads:
Can a security expert save the Internet from a catastrophic zero day cyber attack by a network of zombie computers, known as a botnet? At what cost? “Credible and believable, this story is told by a subject matter expert. I could not wait to find out what happened next.” – Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer “The threat to the Internet from worms, viruses, botnets, and zombie computers is real, and growing. Counting from Zero is a great way to come up to speed on the alarming state of affairs, and Johnston draws you in with his story and believable cast of characters.” – Phil Zimmermann, creator of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) the most widely used email encryption program Today, every computer connected to the Internet is under constant attack from viruses, worms, port scans, and spam. Security professionals continually fight to contain newly unleashed cyber attacks, known as ‘zero day' attacks, only to have new attacks launched. Millions of computers have already succumbed, and, without their owner’s knowledge, have become slave computers - remotely controlled ‘zombies’. Under the control of organized crime and backed by foreign governments, these computers are morphing into collections known in the industry as botnets, short for robot networks. Internet security expert Mick O’Malley is the only one who recognizes the growing threat of the ultimate zero day attack on the Internet from a massive botnet, and his unique hacker skills and network of colleagues enable him to fight back. More cyber prep than cyber punk, Mick uses real-life tools and techniques to encrypt all his communications, and uses these skills to break the encryption used by the botnet. Mick uses encryption on a personal level, too, having multiple passports and multiple names and identities. While crisscrossing the globe in the air, on land, and at sea investigating the threat, Mick becomes the target of attacks on his reputation, his identity, and ultimately his life. Along the way, Mick meets Kateryna Petrescu, a beautiful Romanian firewall expert. Mick’s attraction to Kateryna develops as they work closely together and share the excitement and danger. Why is the government following Mick and trying to intercept his communications? Can he stop the zero day attack before it is unleashed? What will be the cost to Mick for his single mindedness? Unfolding across three continents, the new techno thriller "Counting from Zero" gives a realistic insider’s view of the thrust and parry world of computer security and cryptography, and the very real threat of botnets.

My take:
Counting from Zero by Alan Johnston is about an important and intriguing topic - computer security and the vulnerabilities of computers to botnets. My husband works in IT, so I am not completely unfamiliar with the issues dealt with in the book.  Computer security is a vital part of all computer professionals' lives and I love hearing my husband's stories about the various issues and attempted attacks on systems.  When I received an email from the author, I was happy to read the book and review it.

The first part of the book gets off to a decent start, but the transitions in action and dialogue are a bit abrupt and take some getting used to.  I did enjoy how the story unfolded though and continued to read even with the difficult transitions in action.  Mr. Johnston's knowledge is definitely in evidence throughout the book.  I appreciated the blog-type entries before each chapter which explained different security issues, terminology, etc., even if it was mostly review for me.  I admit that I am a bit of a geek and I liked these little touches.  I also liked that the encrypted emails were printed in the book as they would be on an actual email.  It helped with authenticity.  There were also social media-type updates at the beginning of each chapter that provide a bit of humor and insight into the thoughts of Mick, the main character.

I thought Part II of the book flowed much better than Part I. It seemed to me that the abrupt transitions were less in evidence and the story just pulled me along to the end.  This was a hard book to put down.  I think that people interested in computers and computer security and well as cyberpunk type books would enjoy Counting from Zero.  I'm not saying its a perfect first book, but the story had me interested throughout and it did make me look at my computer security again.  And again.  It seemed to me that the final chapter sets things up for a sequel and I would definitely be willing to read another installment in this story. 

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