Book Review – Rogue Code by Mark Russinovich

Rogue Code by Mark Russinovich

Having read and reviewed Mark’s two previous ‘Jeff Aitken’ novels, Zero Day, and Trojan Horse; I was keen to read Rogue Code as soon as I heard about it.

First of all though – I want to know when the fabled movie/s are going to get made!!?

We rejoin our heroes (Jeff and Daryl – a girl btw) some time after the previous adventure, in a time where their increased reputation and success started to drive them physically apart as a couple, if not emotionally.  The two threw themselves deeper into their respective work, and we meet Frank Renkin – Jeff’s new associate, who has more than a little history at ‘the company’ himself.

Frank is probably the best new move by Russinovich, as his technical expertise, coupled with a more ‘active’ previous association with the CIA brings a new, and more physical dimension to the team, that comes in very handy indeed.

The format of the book is once again based on a diary style over the course of a hectic 10 days.

This time, the threat is on home soil, and is centred around the cut throat and bleeding edge world of high-frequency trading on the New York Stock Exchange.  Real-world examples are given around previous glitches and exploits with HFT in the ‘Flash Crash’, and IPO’s like Facebook.

The stakes are high as companies seek to gain advantage by proximity hosting of their trading code as close to the NYSE as possible.  Other, more nefarious types seek to exploit the system from the inside.

Again, the network of bad guys spreads internationally, and we learn about the complex world of modern money laundering, and how criminals have embraced uber-technical crime, due to the huge potential gains to be made.

There’s no shortage of thrills and spills, with more personal danger than ever before, while the technical detail across multiple fields again is second to none, as Russinovich’s background is bought to the fore, whilst not swamping the non-techie with unfathomable buzz words.

The book maintains a good pace throughout, and really maintains the interest as plot lines converge.  If any criticisms could be laid, they would be pretty minor, such as the occasional conspicuous re-explanation of things like Daryl’s language background, and the ‘newspaper’ articles, that felt like an interruption, just when things were ‘getting good’.  That’s all pretty nit-picky though.

All this left just one question.  Where are the movies already!?

Book Review : Trojan Horse by Mark Russinovich

It’s been a while since I read Mark’s last book – Zero Day, and I finally got a copy of the sequel; Trojan Horse.

Like any followup action story, the main challenges for Russinovich here were to develop the main characters, introduce new characters, angles and plotlines, and also develop/increase the action.  I’m glad to report all of these were successfully undertaken, and Trojan Horse kept me as entertained as Zero Day.

In this story we see Jeff Aitken and his partner (in more ways than one), Darryl Haugen get involved in another global cyber-crisis, with even more tangled international players than before, and even more audacious technical threats employed.  Again, they find themselves getting rather closer to the action than they planned, and their simple ‘computer consultant’ existence is transformed into cyber-agent once again.

The action centres around the Iranian nuclear program, and all the interested players in its outcome.  International governments and secret agents galore, keep things moving pretty quickly, and the book is again organised in a way to make you piece together disparate events yourself to reveal the main plot.

Probably the most significant character development in the book was Darryl as she gains new strength through some traumatic events.  Jeff continues to excel from the technical side, whilst showing more reality, being rather more bumbling in other areas, like driving a manual car.

Talking of reality, it could be said that a few areas are somewhat Bond’esque in the licence they take from coincidence, good luck, and timing.  I’m a big Bond fan, so I actually don’t mind if he escapes several times in a completely implausible fashion.  I guess it all adds to the action – and again, would look great on screen.

I actually found it hard to put down as early as around half-way through, as it seemed things were slowly but significantly building to the climax from there.

The action is solid and the technical detail as always is second-to-none.  Jeff dabbles in other areas, such as Android in this story, so I do wonder quite how many languages he knows and areas of specialism he has!

As an IT guy too, I still find it hard to believe that Jeff can maintain his physique with the hours he works.  Darryl is obviously good for him :)

Looking forward to the next one.

Book Review : Zero Day by Mark Russinovich

Zero DayI’ve long followed the output and talent of Mark Russinovich, as any self-respecting Windows tech should know and use his Winternals and Sysinternals utilities. I don’t know what i would have done in some situations in the past without Process Explorer, Process Monitor, and all the other PsTools. Needless to say, Mark knows what he’s talking about in the world of computers.

I was surprised and intrigued recently when catching up on a Scott Hanselman podcast, he was the interviewee, on topics including his new novel.  Scott seemed genuinely surprised too that Mark had moved into this area, and also impressed with the way he’s managed to bridge the often ‘huge’ gulf between normal life and techiedom.

Zero Day is Mark’s first novel. An action thriller, centered around high technology crime (published in 2011), and he’s followed that up with Trojan Horse; further developing the main characters in the first book.

Zero Day features Jeff Aitkin as the lead character. A technical wizard, specialising in computer security, but seemingly normal in many ways that non-technical people think strange for a geek. He’s fit and good looking.  In the interview, Mark admits Jeff is based on him. :)

What’s interesting first of all, is that the novel was even published, as the subject matter simply wouldn’t have had mass appeal even just a few short years ago. The exploding popularity of the internet, and its crossover into normal people’s daily lives has obviously made the story more accessible than ever before. Also, the subject matter of coordinated cyber attacks was something even Mark himself thought may have happened for real before he finished the book; making the story less relevant. I guess he’s thankful in more ways than one we’ve survived up to now.

The story starts with the seemingly isolated virus infection of a company’s network, in the midst of a rather racy opening scene. Mark doesn’t hold back on language and imagery to paint the picture. I don’t know why I was surprised by this, but I guess that helps the book to sell.  Maybe it was also an attempt to quickly set the tone that this is not just a book for techheads.

We quickly then learn of many other, and varied incidents, involving computers in all sorts of places, and applications. Some with fatal consequences. What follows is a well constructed plot that explores not only the technical detail of viruses, exploits, triggers and rootkits, but the human factors that motivate individuals away from doing ‘good’, and the ways they justify their actions to themselves.

Clearly the author has done his research on many topics. The technical stuff is a given, but the characters involved are from many different backgrounds, explored well, and their back story plausible in most cases. Jeff’s own previous connection with the government, and the events leading up to 9/11 is interesting, albeit quite convenient for the story line.

My only real character comment is that the story seems to centre around a small group of very attractive computer people.  Jeff finds himself surprised when his new client is attractive, as his previous experience was that of the few women in IT, very few of them were attractive. His emerging sidekick and love interest also just happened to be a whizzkid, and complete knockout. I guess they’d better get moving on the movie!

Things develop, and it seems that this thing is bigger than individual viruses and hackers. The characters start to connect in unexpected ways, often unknown to them, and it’s a good rollercoaster ride across the world, as the characters chase the ‘cure’.  But – would it make any difference anyway on Zero Day?

Whether enough loose ends were resolved at the end of the book I’m still deciding, but that may be another reason to read Trojan Horse.

Being someone who doesn’t read many novels, I enjoyed this a lot as the story and technical detail held my interest throughout. Also, like the information age itself, the book is split into bitesize chunks that move quickly between the various storylines. I found myself wondering which thread I was going to join() again next (pardon the developer pun).

Trojan Horse - the bookI’m looking forward to getting into the next Jeff Aitkin adventure, Trojan Horse, which is also now available.

Check out the rest of Mark’s work on his site http://www.trojanhorsethebook.com/