Bestselling Black Hawk Down author Bowden follows a group of white-hat computer experts who came together to fight Conficker, malware that surfaced in late 2008 and appeared poised to take over millions of computers running Windows Operating System on April 1, 2009. Bowden shows how “The Cabal” struggled to stay ahead of the Conficker worm as it evolved in the course of four months into ever more threatening incarnations. The author takes readers behind the scenes, showing the security specialists’ increasing frenzy, not to mention occasional infighting, as they worked to defeat the worm. Along the way, the author lucidly explains how malware can take over computers as well as how the very openness of the Internet makes it vulnerable to attack. “If no one is ultimately responsible for the Internet, then how do you police and defend it?” he asks. But while Bowden presents the Cabal’s efforts to defeat Conficker as an epic good vs. evil battle, the actual stakes are never entirely clear. Even the computer researchers have no way of knowing whether Conficker will set off “Cybarmageddon,” or will amount to no more than an elaborate April Fool’s joke. (Oct.)
From the author of Black Hawk Down, a different sort of blood-and-thunder heroism narrative, out on the frontiers of cybercrime.
Journalist Bowden (The Best Game Ever: Giants vs. Colts, 1958, and the Birth of the Modern NFL, 2008, etc.) enthusiastically explains that world commerce faces serious threats from malware, especially "botnets," networked computers with a customized hidden infection that can be triggered by the malware programmer for any number of vicious effects. The largest such threat to date became known as Conficker when it surfaced abruptly in 2008. Much of Bowden's narrative documents the work of a disparate, volunteer group of early Internet pioneers, ex-hackers and driven cyber-security professionals who came together, mostly online, to form the Conficker Working Group or (its preferred name) The Cabal. Initially, the group felt confident in their collective, improvised efforts to minimize the worm's ability to infect individual computers and form a botnet; they were thus increasingly alarmed when Conficker was twice upgraded in sophistication by its mysterious programmers. Worse, their attempts to alert federal authorities were met with comical paranoia and ineptitude. Since Conficker functioned by randomly infecting large quantities of domain names, it was particularly difficult to counteract; yet, after much tension, the activation date for the botnet came and went to no apparent effect. Bowden notes that "the prospect of nothing happening...had actually become the prevailing theory of The Cabal itself." Still, Cabal members and Bowden both insist that the danger was not overstated. The author concludes that Conficker proves that "carefully tailored targeted attacks" are the wave of the future, using as an example the Stuxnet worm that attacked Iranian nuclear-production facilities. Bowden is a sharp, funny writer who can convey a complex narrative in crisp terms, but due to the subject matter, this remains an airy and less-engaging book than his best-known works.
A brief, punchy reminder of our high-tech vulnerabilities.
“[Worm] is well-written and informative, capturing a key episode in a fast-moving field we all need to better understand.”The Washington Post
“When Mark Bowden writes, smart readers pay attention. . . . Bowden is a deserved brand name a superb reporter and compelling narrative writer, whether his subject is war in a forlorn land (Black Hawk Down, set in Somalia) or a variety of others in seven other books (Killing Pablo, Guests of the Ayatollah, etc.). And now we have the current masterpiece, Worm.”The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Worm is a solid although disquieting read for anyone with a stake in the Internet’s continued smooth functioningand these days, isn’t that just about all of us?”Pop Matters
“In the world of nonfiction, Bowden is an ace, a writer with guts and gusto. . . [Worm] does a terrific job of setting the groundwork, turning the highly technical into something comprehensible.”The Seattle Times
“Worm details a digital-age battle between good and evil . . . It is a harbinger of the future, where threats to the cyber domain are as real and potentially cataclysmic as a weapon of mass destruction.”Military Review
“Bowden . . . gives this account of the computer world’s efforts to neutralize the Conficker worm the flavor of a riveting report from the digital battlefield’s front lines. . . . A nerve-wracking but first-rate inside peek into the world of cybercrime and its vigilant adversaries.”Booklist
“[T]he thumbs of every 30-something üntergeek will still Tweet in ecstasy at seeing technical terms like NCP/IP, Port 445, and MS08-067 spread across the pages of a mainstream book. But the rest of us should take Mark Bowden’s warnings with the utmost seriousness because of the growing threats to our wired world.”New York Journal of Books
“[T]his book chronicles a larger threat and should be on the shelves not just of computer collections, but any general lending library.”The Midwest Book Review
“People have compared cybercrime to a type of warfare. And after reading Mark Bowden’s fast-paced Worm: The First Digital World War, it’s easy to see why.”South Bend Tribune
“Excellent. . . a screen grab of a kaleidoscopic video with a projection growing bigger by the day, a sound getting louder by the hour.”The Oregonian
“[A] story that readers will find entertaining, informative, andhopefullya little alarming.”Lawfare
“Bowden is a sharp, funny writer who can convey a complex narrative in crisp terms . . . A brief, punch reminder of our high-tech vulnerabilities.”Kirkus Reviews
“[Bowden] delivers a dramatic cyber crime story that explores . . . a devastating computer virus and a potential weapon in war.”Publishers Weekly