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