Zero Day (Jeff Aiken Series #1)

( 52 )

Overview

Over the Atlantic, an airliner’s controls suddenly stop reacting. In Japan, an oil tanker runs aground when its navigational system fails. And in America, a nuclear power plant nearly becomes the next Chernobyl.

At first, these computer failures seem unrelated. But Jeff Aiken, a former government analyst who saw the mistakes made before 9/11, fears that there may be a more serious attack coming. And he soon realizes that there isn’t much ...

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Overview

Over the Atlantic, an airliner’s controls suddenly stop reacting. In Japan, an oil tanker runs aground when its navigational system fails. And in America, a nuclear power plant nearly becomes the next Chernobyl.

At first, these computer failures seem unrelated. But Jeff Aiken, a former government analyst who saw the mistakes made before 9/11, fears that there may be a more serious attack coming. And he soon realizes that there isn’t much time if he hopes to stop an international disaster.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Mark came to Microsoft in 2006 to help advance the state of the art of Windows, now in his latest compelling creation he is raising awareness of the all too real threat of cyber terrorism." —Bill Gates

"CyberTerrorism. Get used to that word and understand it because you're going to see more of it in the newspapers and hear it on the news in the not too distant future. Mark Russinovich is a CyberSecurity expert who has turned his considerable knowledge into a very scary and too-plausible novel. Zero Day is not science fiction; it is science fact, and it is a clear warning of Doomsday. A must-read for all Americans and for those entrusted with our security and our survival." —Nelson DeMille

"While what Mark wrote is fiction, the risks that he writes about eerily mirror many situations that we see today." —Howard A. Schmidt, White House Cyber Security Coordinator

"An up-to-the-moment ticking-clock thriller, Zero Day imagines the next 9/11 in a frightening but all too believable way. An expert in the field, Mark Russinovich writes about cyberterrorism with a mix of technical authority and dramatic verve. I was riveted." —William Landay, author of Defending Jacob

"When someone with Mark Russinovich's technical chops writes a tale about tech gone awry, leaders in the public and private sector should take notes." —Daniel Suarez, author of Daemon

"Microsoft computer guru Russinovich's first novel, a cautionary tale about the imminence of the great cyber attack to wipe out the Internet." —Publishers Weekly

"Nothing if not topical, this is a competent thriller boasting a full share of conspiracies, betrayals, violence and against-the-clock maneuvers." —Kirkus Reviews

"Russinovich’s debut thriller is worth a read; conspiracy theorists will thoroughly enjoy it." —Library Journal

"Zero Day by Mark Russinovich paints a chilling picture of what might happen if hackers lose interest in stealing credit cards and become more focused on cyberterrorism. ... Whether or not you're a computer geek, Zero Day tells a compelling story with thrills and chills to entertain you. I found it more plausible and fun than Dan Brown's Digital Fortress." —The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Guns, babes, rootkits, blade servers, damsels in distress, and assassins. ... Strikes a good balance between technical believability and plot pace." —TechRepublic

"To IT folks, Mark is every bit a hero as Wozniak, Gates or Ken Olsen." —Doug Barney, Redmond Mag

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250007308
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/21/2012
  • Series: Jeff Aiken Series , #1
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 230,714
  • Product dimensions: 5.62 (w) x 8.08 (h) x 0.94 (d)

Meet the Author

MARK RUSSINOVICH works at Microsoft as a Technical Fellow, Microsoft’s senior-most technical position. A cofounder of Winternals, he joined Microsoft when the company was acquired in 2006. He is author of the popular Sysinternals tools as well as coauthor of the Windows Internals book series, a contributing editor for TechNet Magazine, and a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro Magazine. He lives in Washington State.

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Read an Excerpt

1

 

 

MANHATTAN, NYC

SATURDAY, AUGUST 11

12:01 A.M.

 

“Shhh!”

When the whisper came out of the darkness, the man stopped. A vast panel of glass covered the wall before him, displaying uptown Manhattan in a scene that might have been sold as a poster. Ambient light and the soft glow from a dozen computer monitors was all that spared the room total darkness. The logo of Fischerman, Platt & Cohen floated on each monitor.

In the hallway, the steps faded. A moment later her fingers touched his arm, pressing lightly against the soft skin on the inside of his wrist, her flesh much warmer than his. The thought of her so excited aroused him even more.

She tugged and he followed. “Over here,” she whispered. He tried to make her out in the darkness but all he could see was her form, shapeless as a burka. They stopped and she came into his arms, on him even before he realized she’d moved. Her scent was floral, her mouth wet and also warm, tasting of peppermint and her last cigarette.

After a long moment she pulled back. He heard the whisper of clothing across nylon, the slight sound of her skirt dropping to the carpet. He sensed, more than saw, her form stretch on the couch. He unbuckled his trousers and let them drop around his ankles. He remembered his suit jacket; as he removed it, her hand touched his erection through his undershorts. She tugged them lower, then encircled him with her fingers.

Her grip guided him, and as he entered her, a single computer screen sprang to life behind the groaning couple. Turning blue, it read:

Rebooting …

After a few seconds, the screen flickered and read:

NO OPERATING SYSTEM FOUND.

The screen turned black.

BRITISH AIRWAYS FLIGHT 188

NORTH ATLANTIC, 843 MILES OFF NEWFOUNDLAND

FRIDAY, AUGUST 11

12:01 A.M.

The flight attendants were clearing breakfast in the passenger compartments as Captain Robert McIntyre scanned the dials of the PFD, the primary flight display, once again. Beside him, copilot Sean Jones sat facing dead forward in that semihypnotic posture so common to commercial pilots on extended flights.

The sound of the twin engines well behind the pilots was distant. Outside, air slipped past the airplane with a comforting hiss. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with 289 passengers, all but flew itself. Once the airplane reached a cruising altitude of thirty-seven-thousand feet, the pilots had little to do but monitor the instrumentation and be available should something go wrong.

The airplane could take off, fly itself, and land without human assistance. It was state-of-the-art, fly-by-wire technology, which meant the airplane had the latest in computers. The manual controls, such as the throttle and yoke, were not physically connected to anything, though they were programmed to give the feel that they were. Instead, they emitted electronic signals that moved the parts of the plane needed for control.

Computers had even designed the plane itself. So convincing was the computer construct that the airplane was approved for commercial use and had gone straight to production without a prototype. McIntyre commented from time to time that the 787 was the most beautiful and well-behaved airplane he’d ever flown. “Any plans in New York?” he asked his copilot.

Jones sat motionless for several long seconds. “Excuse me,” he said finally. “Did you say something?”

“Want some coffee? I think you were off somewhere.”

Jones yawned. “No, I’m all right. I get so bored, you know?”

McIntyre glanced at his wristwatch. They were still more than an hour out of New York City. “Better watch it. You’ll be on record in another half hour.”

The cockpit voice recorder functioned on a half-hour loop, constantly recording thirty minutes at a time, again and again. Pilots had long learned to be utterly frank only when they were not within half an hour of approach or for the first half hour after takeoff. These were the times anything unusual occurred, if at all. Once in the air, the airplane was all but unstoppable.

“I know, but thanks. ‘Plans,’ you asked? Nothing much. How about you?”

“Just a walk in the park, I think. I’m too old for the rest.”

“Right. Tell it to your wife.” Jones glanced back outside. “What’s the altitude?”

“Let’s see, right at thirty-seven thousand … Jesus, we’re at forty-two thousand feet.” McIntyre scanned the dials again as if searching for an error. The airplane had climbed so gently neither of the men had noticed. “Do you see anything on the PFD?”

“No. Looks good. We’re on auto, right?” They’d been on autopilot since London. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The plane had just come out of a complete servicing. All of the computer software had been reinstalled, with the latest updates. Everything should have been functioning perfectly. Instead, they were on an all but undetectable gentle incline.

“Right,” McIntyre said. “I’m resetting auto.… Now.” Nothing changed. After a moment he said, “Altitude is 42,400 and climbing. What do you think, Sean?”

Jones pursed his lips. “I think we’ve got a glitch. Shall we go manual?”

Pilots were under enormous pressure from the company never to go manual except at takeoff and on approach for landing. The computer not only flew the airplane in between but did a far superior job, increasing fuel efficiency by as much as 5 percent, a great money saver. If the pilots went manual, the flight data recorder, which kept a record of everything from preflight to postflight, would record it, and they’d have to file a report justifying their action.

“Airspeed’s dropping,” Jones said evenly. The autopilot was not only failing to keep the airplane at the proper altitude, but it hadn’t increased power to the engines to compensate for the steady climb.

“Altitude is 42,900 and climbing,” McIntyre said.

The door opened behind them and the senior flight attendant, Nancy Westmore, entered. “Are we climbing, boys? It feels odd back there.”

The pilots ignored her. “Airspeed is 378 and dropping,” meaning 378 kilometers per hour, well below the standard cruising speed of 945. “Altitude is 43,300 and climbing,” Jones said.

“Have a seat, luv,” McIntyre said. “And strap in. We’re going manual.” Westmore, a pretty blonde, blanched, then dropped into the jump seat and buckled up. The two had carried on an affair for the last three years.

“Bobby,” Jones said, “PFD says we are approaching overspeed limit.” The computer was reporting they had exceeded their normal flight speed and were approaching a critical limit.

McIntyre looked at the controls in amazement. “That’s impossible! Airspeed is 197 and falling.” The yoke-shaker program engaged and the stick began to rattle in front of him. In traditional airplanes, the yoke shook at stall. In the 787, the computer simulated the effect for the pilots.

At that moment the stall warning came on. “We’re nearly at stall! It can’t be both. Going manual … now.”

A soothing woman’s voice spoke. “Warning. You are about to stall. Warning. You are about to stall. Warning…”

But when the autopilot disengaged, nothing happened.

“Are you nosing down?” Jones asked, looking over, seeing for himself that McIntyre had pushed the yoke forward.

“No response,” McIntyre said. “Nothing. Jesus!”

“Airspeed 156, stall. Altitude 43,750, still climbing. Holy shit!”

Then the mighty 787, cruising at over forty-three thousand feet, stalled. All 427,000 pounds of the airplane ceased to fly as the plane nosed up a final moment, then simply fell toward the blue ocean eight miles below. All three experienced a sensation of near weightlessness as the plane plunged toward the earth. Westmore closed her eyes and locked her mouth shut, vowing not to make a sound.

Behind them came a roar of passengers screaming.

As it stalled, the airplane lost its flight characteristics, which depended on forward motion through the air for control. The plane fell as an object, not as an aircraft. Without comment McIntyre pulled the yoke well back, fighting to maintain some control and keep the craft upright. Without air control, the plane could easily roll onto its back. If it did, they were lost.

Under his breath Jones said, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…” He scanned the PFD. “Airspeed 280, altitude twenty-nine thousand.”

“Jesus,” McIntyre said. “I’ve got nothing.” The yoke was not giving him any feel. The plane was moving through space absent any control. “Engaging auto!”

Through the closed door came more screams. Neither pilot heard them.

Jones reached over and engaged the autopilot. Both men were trained that in an emergency, the autopilot had a superior solution to any they could come up with. They’d been shown example after example of pilots wrestling with airplanes until they crashed, doing the wrong thing over and over, when the autopilot would effortlessly have saved the craft.

“Patience. Give it time,” McIntyre said as if to himself.

Another long moment passed. Nothing happened. The airplane wobbled to the right, corrected itself as it was designed to do, then wobbled to the left.

“Airspeed 495, increasing; altitude twenty-seven thousand, falling,” Jones said. He resumed the Hail Mary.

“Mother of God,” McIntyre muttered, “hear me. Disengaging auto. Setting throttle to idle!”

The airplane was now in a significant dive, and the crew could feel the buildup of airspeed as it rushed toward the sea. The sound from the passengers was now a steady desperate drone. The plane was well nosed forward. The horizon, which should have lay directly in front of them, was instead high above.

“Airspeed 770, altitude twenty-two thousand!” Jones’s voice had risen an octave.

“Shit!” McIntyre said. “God damn you!” he shouted, cursing the airplane. “Reboot,” he commanded. “Reboot the fucking computer! Hurry up.”

Jones tore his eyes from the PFD. “Rebooting.” They were under strict orders never to reboot in flight. This was a ground-service procedure. Jones fumbled for the switch. “Got it! Not responding, Bobby. It’s not responding! It’s locked!”

“Kill the power.” McIntyre’s face shone from sweat. “Hurry. We haven’t much longer!”

Jones looked to his right, ran his hand and fingers down the display, found the master switch, and flipped it off. The PFD went black.

“Wait!” McIntyre snapped. “Give it a second. Okay. Now!”

Jones flipped the switch. “On!” There was a pause. The dials before them sprang to life.

From behind them came a steady roar of terror punctuated by loud noises, as luggage from the overhead compartments and laptops flew about, striking anything in their own flight path.

“Engaging auto!” McIntyre said. Nothing.

“It’s still rebooting,” Jones said. They couldn’t know for certain either their airspeed or altitude, making reliable decisions impossible. “I estimate fifteen thousand with airspeed in excess of 836.” They were nearly at standard cruising airspeed. “We’re falling fast.”

The nose was now well down as the 787 plummeted toward the earth. The air slipping across the exterior controls of the airplane had restored flight control, but the yoke still denied it to the pilots.

The sensation of falling was palpable. Behind the men now came a high-pitched howl neither could place. It was neither mechanical nor human. McIntyre glanced back, expecting the worst, and realized it was Westmore. He hadn’t thought it possible for a human voice to make such a sound. “Quiet, luv,” he said, trying to calm the terrified woman. “Please!” He turned to the front. “Disengaging auto!” In front of him, filling the entire windshield, was the blue expanse of ocean.

“It’s rebooted now!” Jones shouted.

Without warning, the plane suddenly responded to the yoke.

“Oh, shit,” Jones said, as the captain began to try to raise the nose of the plane. The dials were giving information now. “Airspeed 915, altitude eight thousand! Easy, Bobby, easy. Don’t overdo it.” If they managed to pull the aircraft out of the dive, the danger was that it would rocket uncontrollably into the sky, a situation nearly as deadly as the dive itself.

McIntyre pulled on the yoke steadily. His face was masked in sweat. His breath came out in short, labored puffs. The plane was pulling up in response to his command, but the horizon was still much too high, the space before them nothing but ocean.

“Airspeed 1034, altitude four thousand! Oh, God!”

McIntyre pulled back more forcibly on the yoke. They felt the g-forces as he compelled the airplane out of the dive.

“Airspeed 1107, altitude three thousand!”

“Come on, you bastard, come on.” McIntyre pulled the yoke well back, all but certain one of the wings was going to come off.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit!” Jones said. The g-forces pressed them heavily into their seats.

“Get up, get up, motherfucker.” Behind the men, Westmore screamed again.

“Airspeed 1122! Altitude twenty-three hundred!” Jones said in a high-pitched voice, almost in falsetto.

“Climb, you bastard, climb!”

Suddenly the g-forces vanished as if an invisible hand had been lifted from them.

“We’re climbing!” Jones said with a laugh. “We’re climbing! Airspeed 1103, altitude twenty-six hundred!”

Flight 188 rocketed into the sky like a ballistic missile.

 

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Russinovich

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 52 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 52 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 12, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The entertaining story line is linear yet exhilarating and frightening

    A British Airways plane flying over the Atlantic finds its controls suddenly failing. In Manhattan Fischerman, Platt & Cohen hires computer security expert Jeff Aiken to determine what caused a total system failure. Department of Homeland Security Division of Counter Cyberterrorism operative Daryl Haugen investigates a computer virus that at Brooklyn's Mercy Hospital caused several deaths. Other deadly incidents also occur due to computer failure.

    A former government official Aiken and Haugen discuss their cases. Each is stunned with the similarity. They soon connect other recent system failures to theirs. The conclusion each reaches is that a Zero Day globalization attack is coming rather soon.

    The entertaining story line is linear yet exhilarating and frightening especially since author Mark Russinovich is an expert on the topic as his résumé brings a scary possibility to the cyber attack that the thriller focuses on. Aiken and Haugen seems real because they know they cannot stop all the incidents leading to Zero Day and people will die, but want to prevent the pandemic disaster from happening. Fans will enjoy this powerful cyber-terrorist attack that showcases how vulnerable the West is.

    Harriet Klausner

    5 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Cyberwar Looming?

    Have you ever experienced a virus, Trojan horse, spam, worm, etc. on your computer? It seems overwhelming when it happens, but imagine if it began to happen to computers around the country all at once. Imagine that, unlike your problem, this national problem doesn't seem to be fixable at all. The bottom line is financial loss at a devastating level but also other consequences never before contemplated.

    A horrific scenario begins to multiple in Zero Day, a novel about the deadly effects of a computer virus deliberately designed to keep replicating itself and spreading through vulnerable spots on other computers. So far it has caused multiple deaths in a hospital where computerized medication programs went awry from this "glitch." An airplane drops thousands of feet in seconds, unsure of recovery. Automatic computer robots in an automobile factory go haywire, causing the death of the man assigned to monitor them and shutting down so that business comes to a total standstill. Dams fail, nuclear power plants fail, and on and on and on. It seems the stuff of futuristic science fiction but is a present day threat ever looming in a world increasingly reliant on computers for everything.

    Jeff Aiken and Daryl Haugen are the best in the business. If they can't find the source and solution for these nightmares about to destroy America, no one can. Jeff is recovering from a traumatic loss and unsure of anything, but his intellectual curiosity quickly pulls him into the nonstop search for answers, possibilities that seek to find if this is a sicko individual act or a scenario being implemented by much larger international groups with terrorist goals. The clock is running now to Zero Day, involving an international connection that brooks no interference and is determined to be the hand of fate on the world.

    If you aren't a computer geek, some of the lingo and explanations are going to pass right by you; but there's enough information and ever-developing, terrifying plot developments to keep you riveted to every page. If you are a computer pro, you're going to absolutely love every page of this story that actually provides the technological lingo which shows the realistic potential for this unstoppable plot to unravel in cyberspace. There's a tad much on repetition, but it's bearable and serves to reinforce the awful threat effectively happening.

    Zero Day: A Novel covers a scenario frequently imagined but never, fortunately, realized to date beyond what can adequately be handled and responded to. It seems, according to Mark Russinovich to be a warning to businesses, government, and computer professionals that cyberwar is and will be our next war, with implications far beyond what the experts usually predict! Great novel about a very important issue!

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Entertaining and Educational!

    Entertaining and educational, this techno thriller is Mr. Russinovich's first novel and it sends home a very eye opening and unsettling message. He has an extensive background in computers and networks and has been an esteemed Technical Fellow at Microsoft. In his story he presents a very vivid picture of the vulnerabilities and devastating outcomes that are possible in a cyber attack on the US and Europe. The story starts out slowly with an investigation into the mysterious failures and anomalies of a number of major computer systems. The technical aspects are well researched and clearly presented and developed for the reader. In the second half the pieces come together and fast paced action to avert the impending cyber attack, becomes more dominant. I found the story and characters interesting, but the best part of this book is the depiction of the vulnerabilities of our way of life in our increasingly computer/network relevant world. Especially recommended for inquiring minds on what can only be one of the major emerging issues of new age.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 12, 2011

    Spectacular Book

    I love a good fiction novel, and with it in my field this was extremely enjoyable. I hate to think this would be considered Science Fiction, but that is probably the best category. Ten years ago it would be definitely SciFi. In today's world, it is scary to think that this could be non-fiction.

    If you work in the IT world and have not read the book, get a copy and start reading. Great read.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Good Thriller with a strong sense of reality.

    Even if I had not been working in networking and security for over a decade I believe I would still like this book. It is a thriller set in the real world with a security crisis that could happen at anytime. The two main characters, a man (Jeff) and woman (Daryl) are likeable and I would definitely like to read more about them. Then plot is good, we do some traveling and you always needs a good assassin which Zero Day has. Mark Russinovich can be proud of this one and I can not wait for his next, hopefully with more Jeff & Daryl!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 5, 2012

    Solid story with mediocre characters and writing

    On the whole, I enjoyed this book. It's a good story and fairly well executed, although I found the characterisations a little flat and stereotypical. Solid story with average writing. The pacing was good. If you're a tech/geek, you'll almost certainly enjoy the tale, but in my opinion it's not the best example of the tech thriller genre.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 29, 2011

    Couldn't put it down!!

    The scariest part about this book is how absolutely possible this is. Very similar to Dr. Robin Cook type novels except instead of medical thriller - this is technical. Mark tells a tale that could all too easily happen in real life.
    Very well written, it will keep you hooked. I hope he writes another because there is never a better book than one written by someone who KNOWS the industry. Too many authors have to go do a ton of research to be able to speak intelligently about a subject. Mark is a renowned expert - from being the inventor of the Sysinternals suite which everyone who works in IT uses... to becoming a Technical Fellow at Microsoft. So it just flows naturally for him.
    I also work for Microsoft (though regrettably I don't know Mark personally... haven't ever even met him but he has been a hero of mine for many years). I work in one of the most highly technical departments at MS and I can tell you, the technical aspects of the book are spot on.
    You'll enjoy it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 5, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Zero Day

    Imagine that a virus infects all computers in the world which leads to catastrophic chaos. This novel begins with such events as airplane losing control of his navigational abilities. This grabbed my attention, but as the book continues, it slowly waned. Cyber terrorists attack the world by compromising our computers and using our dependency on the Internet to terrorize the world. Nice premise but it didn't carry throughout the novel. Although very technical, I found the characters week and the situations predictable.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 26, 2011

    wanted to like it

    I love computers and really liked portions of this book. The story and characters just didn't keep me engaged. I look forward to further books by this author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2011

    An interesting premise pulled into a familiar story line

    A story idea with a lot of potential gets diverted into the familiar plot elements of villains, assassins, and a hero trying to save the world. Worth reading as entertainment or for those who didn't realize that cyber attacks were such a threat.

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  • Posted April 8, 2011

    BookHounds

    Zero Day explores what could happen if some hackers are turned to true evil by terrorists. It examines what could happen if a doomsday virus is sent to almost every computer in the western world and wonders if we are truly too dependent on them. Jeff, a computer analyst, leaves his government job after they fail to act on intelligence that could have prevented 9/11. He is called to help a law firm where a the doomsday virus has been triggered a month early by a wrong date in the system. Realizing that there are severe consequences to the virus he has found, he calls in another colleague from the government, Daryl. Jeff has always had feelings for her and the sparks fly again when they meet.

    The pair try to unravel the threat by finding clues buried within the code and when several people involved with finding the clues are murdered, Jeff and Daryl realize that this is much more serious than a simple hacker trying to make a name for himself. I never knew that unravelling computer code could be so sexy and thrilling! This one made my heart pound and was a real page turner! I loved how the author takes on the fact that we are so dependent on our computers and that fear translates well into a thriller. If you enjoy Michael Crichton and Stephen King, you are going to love this one.

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