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[techbooks] REVIEW: "The Zero Hour", Joseph Finder

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKZEROHR.RVW 20000118 The Zero Hour , Joseph Finder, 1996, 0-380-72665-3 %A Joseph Finder %C 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019 %D 1996
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 24, 2000
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      BKZEROHR.RVW 20000118

      "The Zero Hour", Joseph Finder, 1996, 0-380-72665-3
      %A Joseph Finder
      %C 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019
      %D 1996
      %G 0-380-72665-3
      %I Avon Books/The Hearst Corporation
      %O +1-800-238-0658 avonweb@...
      %P 432 p.
      %T "The Zero Hour"

      This is a thriller, with the standard financier-driven-mad-by-bungled-

      Now, Finder seems to have had some pretty high-powered help, given
      some of the names in the acknowledgements. In fact, the book gets an
      awful lot of technology right, where most fiction gets it wrong.

      There is, for example, some really excellent stuff on bomb forensics.
      The description of recovery of the previous track on a re-recorded
      tape is bang on. The social engineering that goes on, from both
      sides, is pretty good, too. Even bugging technology is more realistic
      than usual.

      But there are still some problems. The process of tracking down a
      cell phone has good points and bad points. A cell phone can be
      located by localizing the tower it is transmitting to, and you can
      even narrow that down by measuring signal strength between towers.
      But that information is available more or less immediately, since the
      cell system has to know where the phone is in order to place a call to
      it. In addition, cell phones do transmit even when they are not
      actually on the air. But not, as the book seems to indicate,
      continuously. Every few minutes a cell phone broadcasts its presence.
      Therefore, the cell system would know where the phone is pretty much
      all the time, even if a call had not been placed. (In fact, the
      bomber in the story is rather lucky: a cell phone transmission nearby
      could very well trigger a complex electronic rig.)

      Cryptography gets its ups and downs, too. The story correctly states
      that "open" cryptographic algorithms are probably stronger than
      proprietary ones. However, it seriously mistakes the fact that keys
      are more important than algorithms. At one point the bad guys rejoice
      in the fact that they have a copy of crypto software, even though the
      passwords (keys) have all been changed. In another place, the size of
      the key space is seriously underestimated. Finder repeats the old saw
      about the NSA having all the crypto keys in the world in a database
      somewhere. As someone has pointed out, for even moderately secure
      keys, the key field address space contains more addresses than there
      are hydrogen atoms in the universe, and even if the NSA could somehow
      hide extra universes inside black holes tucked away in pockets of
      Maryland, the resulting gravitational effects would probably give the
      game away. (Also, a book cipher is not a substitution cipher, it's
      more of a variation on a one time pad.)

      Communication, as usual, gets treated particularly badly. A US based
      pager could not be tested in Europe, since the tower would be just a
      tad beyond reach. Even a satellite pager would be out of the
      footprint. And if a pager system did have connections in Europe, you
      could probably get the pagers there. Microwave telecommunications
      signals between towers are *all* digital. It is possible to tap fibre
      optic cable. (Difficult, but possible.) And a tap on coaxial cable
      does not need to break the cable: a simple vampire tap will do, and
      it's a snap to remove.

      There are more, but I'll stop with my favorite topic. Viruses, of
      course. Marking a file as hidden would pretty much ensure that it
      never got executed: it's not a good way to hide a virus. Marking a
      file as hidden would pretty much ensure that it did *not* get
      transferred from disk to the computer, since almost all copy programs
      copy files rather than disk images. If there are millions of copies
      of the virus everywhere, it's a pretty good bet that at least one of
      them has already been executed. And a PC virus is pretty much
      guaranteed not to have any effect on a mainframe.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2000 BKZEROHR.RVW 20000118

      ====================== (quote inserted randomly by Pegasus Mailer)
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      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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