Saturday, March 31, 2012

Worm: The First Digital World War by Mark Bowden


What would happen, do you think, if the internet fell over? [..] Worm tells the story of what was probably the first time, but almost certainly won't be the last, that this became a real possibility. The Conficker worm is a piece of malign software, apparently originating in Ukraine, that propagated through the internet in 2008 and 2009 with terrifying speed.

Mark Bowden tells, with considerable pace and attack, the story of how it was discovered and the efforts that were made by an ad-hoc collective of high-level internet technicians – "the Cabal", as they called themselves – to first understand and then counter it.

The Conficker story [should] be interesting to grown-ups [..]. In the first place, even simplified for the lay reader, the elegance and audacity of the sparring between Conficker's still unknown creators and the "white hats" who set out to thwart them is gripping. But more than that, it tells us something scary about how vulnerable the internet is, and something rather encouraging about how ingeniously and selflessly people can cooperate in its defence [..].

What's most shocking is how clueless the US federal authorities were about Conficker. While independent malware-busters were registering web domains on their own credit cards, and talking domain registry services and private companies all over the world into co-operating with the struggle, the US's supposed cyber-security establishment was still just cottoning on to the version of the worm that had emerged two months previously.


The ineffectiveness of government is not surprising: the Internet is a decentralized, highly distributed structure whereas the government is concentrated, centralized and synchronized. There is a huge mismatch between two cultures.

Also a few words about the reviewer's tongue-in-cheek remark that without Internet "[there would be] A-level coursework containing original research". It is no secret Internet allows professional thesis, homework writers who will pretty much write anything for you, this is correct. But this fact points to another constant of our age. Generally if the presence of a fundamental new capability allows a certain action to happen, chances are that action will happen; Net allows connectivity, filtering, search, so people find thesis writers, solutions to homeworks. You hit the wall, the wall hits you back. There is only simple cause and effect at work here. That is not the problem. The problem is our archaic education system that assumes the absence of the all these things. IOW the old system is pissing in the wind and expects not to get wet on the face. This is clearly not possible.

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