Sunday, August 04, 2013

Digital Fortress

Digital Fortress is a thriller. It bears some resemblance to the spying issue that Snowden leaked to the country. However it is told from the NSA's point of view. The NSA people are the good guys who protect America from the bad guys by hacking messages. They have a supercomputer that they use for brute force decryption. However, a former NSA employee claims to have created a super algorithm that cannot be solved be brute force. He has released an encrypted version of this online and claims to be auctioning off the key to decrypt it to the highest bidder. He essentially dares the NSA to try to decrypt it. The head of the crypto department takes the bait. However, he hatches another scheme to let the NSA get the key, then modify it to give it a secret backdoor before releasing it to the highest bidder. However, things go wrong, lots of people get killed, the supercomputer is destroyed, a major data breach is barely averted and finally the main characters get to go on a date.

If you ignore the technical inaccuracies, this can be a great book. However these technical issues get really annoying. The main climax of the book is occurs because there is a worm in some code that the supercomputer is attempting the decrypt. The worm worm shuts down the defences of the NSA's data store (which is connected to the supercomputer.) The worm is being run because the head of crypto disabled the security "guantlet" that everything must be passed through before it is sent to the computer to decrypt. The holes:
1) How would a decryption spread a virus? These guys have some bad programming if they are trying to execute code as it is decrypted. Even if the computer was trying to crack computer code (by executing it), the code would be sandboxed before it is run. And even if there are other issues, they wouldn't be running code on the datastore, they would just pass stuff there.
2) If the programmer has not created an uncrackable code, why did the NSA's computer spend so much time chugging away at it? It should have either determined that it couldn't decrypt or that it was total garbage.
3) A head of crypto in the NSA can authorize the deaths of many people? And he would be so bold as to ask for the fiance of one of this workers to be killed so that he can have her?

That is just the start of the issues. It could go on. However, if you just sit back and suspend brain, this book can be entertaining.

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