Book Review: Zero Day by Mark Russinovich

Hi folks!

There was a time when a computer was just that thing on your desk at work or the giant monstrosity locked away in an air conditioned room in the basement. Now just about everything has a computer inside. Your phone and car are just for starters. What about the airplane you’re flying on? Or the power plant providing electricity to your home? We’re all more dependent on computers than ever before.

So what happens when those computers start to fail randomly for no apparent reason?

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. First a passenger jet’s controls go dead when the computer goes offline. Then an oil tanker plows into a Japanese port and a nuclear power plant loses control… But that’s just the beginning.

When Jeff Aiken, a computer analyst who used to work for the CIA, starts investigating a failure at a large law firm in New York, he discovers that somehow a virus has corrupted data on the server. Not only is their financial data gone, but all of their litigation data as well. Though they have backups, Jeff does a thorough check to make sure those aren’t infected too and down the rabbit hole he goes. After hours of work, he uncovers a name – Superphreak.

At the same time, Dr. Daryl Haugen at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and part of the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) is investigating other instances of computers shutting off. Critical computers at hospitals failed and caused medication confusion that led to patient deaths. Were they simply isolated incidents or part of a broader attack on US interests?

As Jeff & Daryl’s investigations progress, they find shocking coincidences and connections between the various computer failures in the US. Can the two computer investigators figure out what’s going on and who’s behind it before more people die? Can they figure out what, who and where Superphreak is before it’s too late.

I won’t spoil the plot twists and surprises for you, but I was hooked from beginning to end. It’s hard to believe that this is Russinovich’s first novel.

If his name rings a bell, it might be because you’ve seen it in conjunction with Winternals, a website dedicated to helping system admins manage, diagnose, troubleshoot, and monitor Microsoft Windows environments. It was so influential in Windows circles that Microsoft acquired it in 1996. Russinovich is co-author for several books in the Windows Internals book series, as well as a contributing editor for TechNet Magazine and Windows IT Pro Magazine. He has some serious geek cred.

Zero Day offers a scary scenario for what could happen via cyberterrorism. Hackers are only part of the problem and usually only out for their own best interests or to illuminate issues that need to be fixed. If terrorists can harness hacker knowhow and find ways to take down key systems, we’re going to be in a world of hurt. Russinovich does a great job of shedding some light on the possibility. Hopefully businesses and governments are listening.

He does get a bit deep into “geek speak” at times, describing the inner workings of computers, BIOS, and operating systems and how they relate to one another. If you don’t like the jargon, you can skim it and get the gist of what he’s after, but I found it fascinating to see just how far he goes to detail the potential of this looming threat. It doesn’t quite offer a step-by-step guide to destroying the world with a storm of computer viruses and ‘bots, but damn if it doesn’t come close.

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, so I’m hoping that Russinovich gets ideas for further cyber thrillers to educate us while entertaining and scaring us!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great books at Barnes & Noble below!

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Movie Review: Black Snake Moan

Hi all…

Black Snake Moan has been on my Netflix queue for quite a while and I finally had a chance to see it over the weekend. I’ll sum it up like this: Amazing soundtrack. Great characters. A messed up world of drinking, drugs, cigarettes, sex, and the blues.

Black Snake Moan (film)

Image via Wikipedia

It used to be wine, women, and song… Now it’s sex, drugs, and rock and roll. In this case, it’s more blues than rock-n-roll, but it’s close enough I guess.

[rating:2.5/4]

By far the weakest part of this movie is Justin Timberlake. There’s a scene when he beats a friend of his for sleeping with his girl, and it was very poorly staged.

But the strongest part is Sam Jackson. Who the heck knew he could play anything other than the kick-arse roles he’s played in the past in such movies as Pulp Fiction? And if he wasn’t the one playing the licks on the electric and accoustic guitars in those scenes, he did a fine job faking it.

Ultimately the story is one of the relationships among a group of people.

Jackson plays a blues singer who operates a small farm and sells the produce in town. His wife just left him for his brother. And he’s a bit angry about that.

Ricci plays a woman who was abused as a child and uses a sex addiction to try and fill the holes in her life. Her boyfriend (Timberlake) heads off to join the National Guard and she goes into a tailspin, eventually ending up beaten and sick on the side of the road near Jackson’s house.

The rest of the movie is one of redemption and finding a way to survive. Jackson helps Ricci because he doesn’t want to be alone to think about the fact that his wife is gone. Ricci needs structure in her life and to be handled with a certain amount of respect to get her over the sex addiction and on a road to recovery.

Ultimately, both Jackson and Ricci’s characters find a way, even though it might not be ideal in Ricci’s case. But each has a path they can live with.

I was impressed by Sam Jackson in this movie. His character was much deeper than many of the characters I have ever seen him play. If it was actually Jackson playing the guitar, he’s pretty good. 🙂 As such, if you’re a Sam Jackson fan (and don’t mind foul language, nudity, and adult situations), I would recommend this film.

I give it 2.5 out of 4. I’d give it 3 out of 4, but Timberlake’s performance was horrible IMHO. He should stick to making music that I don’t listen to on the radio. Definitely not a movie for the kiddies though.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick this one up at Amazon. I know I’ll be picking up the soundtrack soon!

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My Netflix “Watch Instantly” Experience…

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase, source unknown

Hi all…

I had a chance to watch the Justice League: The New Frontier animated movie over Netflix‘s “Watch Instantly” feature on their website and thought I’d write about it.

Amazingly enough, it worked really well. I say that as if I was shocked, because I was. I tried it a year ago and was sorely disappointed. But on Vista and using Internet Explorer (ugh), it worked remarkably well.

I’m a dedicated Firefox guy, so it was a little bizarre having to open up IE for this. I hope they can figure out how to make it work cross-browser. But ultimately it was pretty seamless.

It did have a few hiccups now and then as it streamed the movie to my desktop, but the quality was excellent on my 19″ wide-screen computer monitor. The colors were crisp and the sound quality was good.

Now that I’ve had one positive experience with it, I might have to start watching other movies online as time allows. It would certainly free up some of the backlog of movies I have in my Netflix queue. 🙂

So give it a shot if you’re a Netflix subscriber with Broadband internet access. You might like what you see. 🙂

–Fitz
Netflix, Inc.

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