Perhaps a clever Latin pun (hint) in honor of today’s review deserves a “Like” from this site’s slowly growing following?
Title: Worm: The First Digital World War, by Mark Bowden
Completed: January 5, 2012 (#3)
Recommendation: Slight (but leaning toward moderate)
Mr. Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World’s Greatest Outlaw, turns his attention to the notorious “Conficker C” computer virus, which has infected an estimated millions of computers worldwide since its outbreak in late 2008.
Computer virus, eh? Mr. Bowden knows what you are thinking, dear Reader:
Most of us still think of the threat posed by malware in terms of what it might do to our personal computer. When the subject comes up, the questions are: How do I know if I’m infected? How do I get rid of the infection? But modern malware is aimed less at exploiting individual computers than exploiting the Internet. A botnet-creating worm doesn’t want to harm your computer; it wants to use it.
Conficker C, however, is apparently no toothless Y2K:
Phil Porras told the reporter, “Perhaps the most obvious frightening aspect of Conficker C is its clear potential to do harm. Perhaps in the best case, Conficker may be used as a sustained and profitable platform for massive Internet fraud and theft. In the worst case, Conficker could be turned into a powerful offensive weapon for performing concerted information warfare attacks that could disrupt not just countries, but the Internet itself.”
My high hopes for this book were largely disappointed. As with his earlier book on the life and death of cocaine cartelista Pablo Escobar, my impression is that Mr. Bowden’s keen eye for selecting subject matter is ultimately (and unfortunately) marred in the execution. International drug pushing and techno-crime are timely and engaging topics that ought to leave a reader white-knuckled and breathless; Worm and Killing Pablo fall short in this regard.
Too much of Worm, essentially a cyber-police procedural drama, is consumed by procedure, and Mr. Bowden devotes page upon page to internecine strife amongst the various computer nerd factions that constitute the self-styled (and self-appointed) “Cabal” that emerges to combat the virus.
It does not help Mr. Bowden’s cause that Conficker C–despite the serious concerns of the computer cognoscenti–does not yet appear to have opened the Seventh Seal of the Apocalypse or that the perpetrators behind the virus have neither been caught nor even identified. The story may yet be unripe for the telling, gradually petering out to an anticlimax in the final chapters.
It is when Mr. Bowden’s tone becomes minatory that he is at his journalistic best:
More and more, the world as we know it depends on the smooth interaction of computers. The Internet has become the collective mind of humanity, its eyes and ears and memory. As old paper repositories convert to digital storage, and as the new trail of modern civilization increasingly inhabits the digital realm, it has become, in a sense, the new Library of Alexandria.
I would urge the Reader to print today’s post…just in case.