Book: Worm – The First Digital World War

I’ve been reading a lot more lately – mostly on the weekends – but I’m getting back into a good book rhythm. I can feel it helping my brain and my soul – I’ve always been a huge reader and when I go through phases where I’m not reading something is clearly off.

The second of the three books I read this weekend was Worm: The First Digital World War. It was crap in your pants scary in that real life, cyberwarfare way. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a DDOS attack, you have to read this book.

The author, Mark Bowden, does a great job of telling the story of the Conficker worm in English. Even if you aren’t technical, you’ll enjoy this book as it borders on cyberthriller while telling a real live story that unfolded over several months in late 2008 / early 2009. I was vaguely familiar with Conficker (as in I remember the hoopla about it) but I didn’t know the backstory.

Now I do. And it’s terrifying. And amazing. At many different levels.

We continue to visibly see the impact of physical war and terrorism all the time. But we are just beginning to see cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism. On one of the participants, Paul Vixie, is quoted near the end brilliantly in his “one command away from catastrophe” rant.

These problems have been here so long that the only way I’ve been able to function at all is by learning to ignore them. Else I would be in a constant state of panic, unable to think or act constructively. We have been one command away from catastrophe for a long time now. . . . In a thousand small ways that I’m aware of, and an expected million other ways I’m not aware of, the world has gotten dangerous and fragile and interdependent. And that’s without us even talking about power grids or the food stocks available in high population areas if rail and truck stops working for a week. AND, in a hundred large ways that I’m aware of and an expected thousand I don’t know of, ethically incompatible people out in the world have acquired and will acquire assets that are lethal to the industrial world’s way of life—criminals and terrorists using the Internet for asymmetric warfare is the great fear of our age, or at least it’s my great fear. But I’ve lived with it so long that I have lost the ability to panic about it. One day at a time, I do what I can.

We are just at the beginning of this.

  • vixie cron FTW! 🙂

  • Indeed, and perhaps the bigger thread is not the criminals themselves… but what the government and controlling powers do to this internet in the wake of a criminal or terrorist act. What 9/11 and the PATRIOT ACT did for civil liberties, I can easily see some catastrophic cyber-attack and subsequent legislation could do to the internet.

  • It’s funny how long it can take for this kind of thing to sink in. Some ten years ago, when I was full time screenwriting, I proposed a movie that featured information warfare. Nobody was interested. They didn’t begin to get it.

    Similarly, right now we have no real awareness that the big threat isn’t nuclear but rather biological weapons. That too will change.

  • Try Zero Day and its sequel, Trojan Horse by Mark Russinovich. Equally scary, though fictional.

    • Purchased!

      • Though you could read them out of order, Zero day is a better introduction to Mark’s style and story. Your post made me dig out the original Internet Worm story where Robert Morris caused havoc through his SMTP exploit in the late 80s, and I’m re-reading Fred Cohen’s 1986 dissertation on the concept of a Computer Virus. Fascinating premonition from 27 yrs ago. Just bought Worm for this weekend’s downtime 🙂

  • I was just talking about a book along these lines with @williamhertling. Ordering now, thanks.

  • love that fact that you are reviewing books again on your book. My last two fiction novels were bought based on your recommendation and they were great. Interesting to watch the startups working in this area and follow investments by In-Q-Tel is always of interest to me!

  • My brother in law was an Afghanistan/Counter Terrorist analyst for the CIA in 1970s 1980s I borrowed a book over Easter I recommend Counterattack the Wests Battle Against the Terrorists by Dobson and Payne