Friday, November 4, 2011

Worm - the first digital world war-

  A month ago I did something I’ve never done before. I heard a radio interview of an author, and the next day looked up and ordered the book. I just finished it last night, and   I am still fascinated by the information I read.
                                   WORM The first digital World War by Mark Bowden 
Is a fascinating, and somewhat terrifying look at the Conficker worm, a botnet that created in 2008. It was the quickest spreading, (1.5 million computers in the first month- to over 6 million) and most highly sophisticated piece of malware ever seen. No one knew where it came from,  what its destructive goal was, or how to stop it.
  For me, the first chapter was a little heavy, mostly because I quickly came to realize just how very vague my concept of the internet was. Understanding  Conficker’s significance hinges on understanding how the internet really works, and all the areas of life it controls.
  Bowden actually addressed this issue…
 “The glaze is familiar to every geek ever called upon to repair a malfunctioning machine – Look dude, spare me the details, just fix it!!-  Most people, even well-educated people with formidable language skills, folks with more than a passing knowledge of word processing software and spreadsheets and dynamic graphical displays, people who spend hours every day with their fingertips on keyboards, whose livelihoods increasingly depend on fluency with a variety of software, remain utterly clueless about how any of it works. The innards of mainframes and operating systems and networks, are considered not just unfathomable, but somehow unknowable , or not even worth knowing , in the way that many people are content to regard electricity as voodoo. The technical side of the modern world took a sharp turn with the discovery of electricity, and then accelerated off the ramp with electromagnetism into the Realm of the Hopelessly Obtuse, so that everyday life has come to coexist in strict parallel with a mysterious techno dimension. Computer technology rubs shoulders with us every day, as real as can be, even vital, only…also…..not real. Virtual. Transmitting signals through thin air. Grounded in machines with no visibly moving parts. This techno dimension is alive with, what exactly? Well ordered trains of electrons? Binary charges?”
                                               A few thoughts after reading this book?
I have heard the internet referred to as the last frontier, and the last place of true freedom, but had never thought of the security issues that arise with a worldwide system in place handling our private financial lives,(even if you don’t bank online, your bank probally does!)all large businesses and corporations, and entire governments, with absolutely no governing, regulatory, or even united observing body.(At least none that is known, or acknowledged)   While I agree with this as freedom in the truest sense, - it does put huge responsibility on us as individuals to protect ourselves, and our online ‘lives’.  Great in theory, but laughably  impossible to do in any serious way for those who don’t truly know how their own computers really truely work, let alone the world wide web, which, is most online users.
     While Bowden did not delve into any kind of theorizing, or conspiracies about the still unknown factors/entities  in this event, but solely presents the facts as they stand - I think it is easy to draw conclusions for yourself about the most likely suspects. Sometimes silence is more telling than words.
   For the most part, the book kept pace, and was an absolutely fascinating look at a part of our lives to which I had previously given little to no thought. Bowden did a fantastic job of trying to make each part of a very technical subject easier to understand and relatable. 
     The hardest part of the book to grasp, however, wasn’t the technical information, but the fact that it wasn’t a sci-fi work of fiction, but very, very real. If you want to gain a better understanding of the most powerful part of our modern world you’ll never see, - this book is for you.
(Below is a link to the radio interview I heard on NPR.)