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••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line -Reviews

This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends by Nicole Perlroth.
Bloomsbury Publishing, New York, 2.19. 2021.
534 pp. ISBN: 978-1-63557-605-4.
• Charlie Dickinson review
Cyber wars - a chilling vison of our near future

This is how they tell me  world ends

This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyber Arms Weapons Race by NY Times writer Nicole Perlroth is a chilling account of a potential cyber world war that would leave a nation's infrastructure of electrical grids, water supplies, hospitals, oil and gas pipelines, transportation systems. communications, and more paralyzed, given how everything hooks up to the Internet. 

Namely, computers that are "infected" with a computer virus will invariably pass it along to other machines. Perlroth wisely avoids getting into the technical detail of, say, how that most highly prized computer vulnerability, the renowned “zero day exploit” (ZDE) works? (ZDE = a newly discovered computer virus no one can defend against.) That's because ZDEs are low-level. The general reader doesn't want the detail of bits and bytes. Instead Perlroth steers her narrative toward the players active in this looming all-out cyberwar.

At its core, the story is about the hacker. Hackers are all over the world, mostly anonymous, and the price of entry into the business is a Dell laptop. Searching for a ZDE, a hacker might pore over machine code for a Microsoft product. Poking and probing lines of code that can run into millions.

At one time, the hacker's reward for finding a ZDE might have been bragging rights in the hacker community, a posting on Bugtraq, and possibly an appreciative vendor who did a bug patch.

Perlroth goes on to show how that changed and profiles key players. One engaging character is John Watters, a Texas millionaire, who in 2002 bought a bankrupt DC security firm and decided to pay hackers for ZDEs. Watters, ethical, had his security clients' interests in mind and took steps to see that software was patched.

But after Watters got competition in the pay-for-ZDE game, the ZDEs became weaponized. The cyberarms race was on.

Much of Perlroth's narrative is about post-Snowden discoveries, how the NSA's priority is developing cyberwar tools. As a NY Times writer, working with The Guardian, she examined source materials. She puts forth a genie-in-the-bottle hypothesis and essays how the NSA developed--with Israel as partner--the worm of multiple ZDEs called Stuxnet that began infecting and destroying Iranian uranium centrifuges in June of 2009. As Perlroth correctly states, Americans were first to attack the infrastructure of another country. What goes around comes around. Ironically, or karma, Americans might be a future target, but on a massively larger scale. That's why This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends is chilling.

© Charlie Dickinson - February 19th 2021

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Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:

.mobi (Kindle)
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