WIJFR: Zero Day

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A plane over the Atlantic suddenly needs to reboot its computer to stay in the air, and the pilots barely avert disaster. A hospital network mixes up patient information, resulting in the death of several people. A law firm, which has lost all of its clients’ data and can’t get its system running again, turns to Jeff Aiken, a former government analyst and computer expert. He discovers that all of the crashes are insidiously connected, and an even greater disaster is coming.

I just finished reading “Zero Day” by Mark Russinovich, a cyber-thriller on par with Daniel Suarez’s “Daemon” or “FreedomTM.” At its core, “Zero Day” addresses a real-world, incredibly difficult to solve dilemma: with so many unprotected/unpatched computers in the world today, could a well-crafted virus potentially wreak havoc on the global economy?

The plot: an insidious computer virus, masked by different rootkits, multiple variants, and seemingly multiple authors, is secretly infecting computer systems all over the world, with a trigger date of 9/11. The virus is only noticed ahead of time because some of the computers it infected had incorrect system clocks which caused it to trigger a month early, completely crashing them. Jeff Aiken, a computer security expert, and his former colleague Daryl Haugen, the Assistant Director Computer Infrastructure Security Unit at the Department of Homeland Security, are on the trail of the virus, trying to track it back to its source before the zero day strikes. Who is behind the virus? How long has it been propagating? How widespread is it? Can it be stopped? Will anyone believe them?

We’re all familiar with the concept of viruses and malware and the importance of running anti-virus software and firewalls and keeping our computer systems patched. The reality is, however, that there are a lot of machines complete unprotected or unpatched, which opens a lot of vulnerabilities for the bad guys to exploit. Russinovich, a Technical Fellow at Microsoft, is well-versed in the topic at hand, and so I found his novel to be a little more realistic than the Suarez books I referenced above.

The book is fast-paced and a good read even for those of us in the computer industry. For more information about “Zero Day,” check out the book’s website.

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