Author: Mark Russinovich
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (St. Martin’s Press)
If you are following the media concerning Iran’s quest for a nuclear bomb and the Stuxnet malware, you are going to devour Mark Russinovich’s most recent tome Trojan Horse: A Novel.
For those readers not familiar with Stuxnet, basically it is a complex and clever worm that was discovered in July 2010 when it apparently targeted a series of Iranian organizations with the target widely suspected to include the uranium enrichment infrastructure. The worm is so potent that many experts believe it has the capability of bringing industrial society as we know it to a grinding halt. It is considered to be the largest virus ever unleashed.
Trojan Horse takes off when Franz Herlicher, a United Nations official based in the Office for Disarmament Affairs in Geneva emails a report to another official in London, England containing information concerning the progress of the Iranian nuclear program, however, what arrives is an altered document.
Apparently, the attached email document was copied to the intruder’s system, studied and modified, while at the same time making no modifications to Herlicher’s system so it can’t be discovered. Even the digital signature had been suspended and eventually wound up on the modified document. Very clever and scary at the same time! Yes folks, think about it. Could a nasty piece of code give access to your documents and permit them to be altered?
The original document contained very sensitive information that confirmed that Iran was about to detonate an atomic bomb and it spelled out where and when it was to occur. All hell breaks loose when it is discovered that someone had entered Herlicher’s computer, bypassing all security, sabotaging the report so that it said the exact opposite of what he had written.
To figure out what went wrong, two highly regarded computer security experts are immediately engaged, Jeff Aitken and his female partner Daryl Haugan. Aitken is a former employee of the CIA and Haugan had worked form the US National Security Agency. They presently operate a cyber-security business that is often employed by private companies and national governments.
Russinovich crafts a chilling, intricate, fast-moving tale of middle-east intrigue, conspiracies and assassinations. And the events that follow include devious Iranian operatives determined to help their countrymen succeed in detonating a nuclear bomb, a few murders including a UN official, China’s computer expertise and their implication in helping out Iran concerning Stuxnet so that they can purchase cheap oil, kidnappings, the vulnerability of the UN, cyber-warfare, and of course the proverbial chase scene that is often seen in the movies.
What is noteworthy about this novel is the author’s control of pacing as he effectively manipulates time and space and in the process stays focused on the plot without drifting all over the place. He knows what to zoom in on and what to pull back from, what to minimize and what to maximize.
When I put the book down, the question remained- could this really happen in real life?
Mark Russinovich is employed at Microsoft as a Technical Fellow, Microsoft’s senior-most technical position. He is the author of the first Jeff Aitken novel, Zero Day as well as co-author of the Windows Internals book series. He is also a contributing editor for TechNet Magazine and a senior contributing editor for Windows IT Pro Magazine.