Book Review: Virus Bomb

What might happen if a nation-state really did launch a serious cyberattack against the United States? This intriguing novel explores what a 'Cyber Pearl Harbor' might look like.

by / November 30, 2019

Imagine this:

“Jerry Barkley is a Minnesota IT contractor just trying to earn a living for his family. He’s no superhero. He never worked for the government. He knows nothing about international espionage. Nobody believes his warnings when he uncovers a plot to launch the largest cyberattack in history. Somebody is gathering data to plan a series of bombings and a biological attack while trying to pin blame on a terrorist group. Oh, and the FBI thinks Jerry is part of it.

Hundreds are already dead. Thousands more could die, first from Ebola and then potentially from a war with the wrong enemy. If he doesn’t act, who will? Up against willful ignorance, a hostile law-enforcement bureaucracy, and armed with nothing but IT skills and quick wits, Jerry must leave his keyboard comfort one and go face-to-face with elite foreign agents and shut the attack down.”

This intro is a (slightly edited) description of the fiction novel: Virus Bomb by D. Greg Scott. The book was released this past summer.

Greg Scott is a veteran of the tumultuous IT industry. Greg graduated from Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., with a double major of math and speech and earned an MBA from the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. He started Scott Consulting and Infrasupport Corporation with a focus on infrastructure and security. He currently works for an enterprise software company and holds several IT industry certifications, including a CISSP certification. Greg lives in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area with his wife, daughter and two grandchildren.

Very Brief Book Excerpt

“Hey, Dan.” Jerry said into his cell phone. The Minnesota midafternoon sun shone through his basement window. “I just finished talking to the antivirus team in England. They disassembled the code from Leah’s workstation. And all I can say is wow. The stuff on Leah’s workstation is unique to you.”

“What do you mean?”

“That code has custom modules for dozens of individual trucking companies and every single one of them is unique. Yours has a bunch of database queries apparently looking for scheduling information and routes and drivers. The others also had queries looking for similar information, but the database and syntax were different. Which means that the attackers must have specific knowledge about what software package each of these trucking companies use.”

“How did they get all that?”

“Who knows. Probably the same way they got inside Leah’s workstation at your place. Anyway, the antivirus team has a copy in their lab of everything I had running. Leah’s workstation clone is talking like mad to the Maverick Marketing clone I told you about, and the antivirus group is analyzing the packets.”

“Let me know what your antivirus guys come up with.”

 “I will.” An incoming call beeped in Jerry’s ear. “Uh-oh. Let me call you back. The caller-ID says it’s the Twin Cities FBI. …”  

What I Liked About Virus Bomb

This story winds and twists around the world and around the Internet in intriguing and fun ways. From zero-day exploit attacks in Belfast, Ireland, to Iranian minister’s meetings in Tehran, the intermingled players develop their plots and plans that eventually come together in similar ways to a Tom Clancy novel.

As the story moves around the globe, readers can learn a bit about different places and even cultures.  

The author does a good job of developing characters, while explaining hacking concepts and basic Web attack to us. Jerry Barkley’s experiences and tech support interaction seemed legit and well-written. Bottom line, the plot is believable.

And yet, as I read Virus Bomb, the reality hits home that activities similar to this are no doubt happening around the world right now, albeit more likely with three-letter agencies in U.S. and foreign governments. We all use a common Internet, and the vulnerabilities described and actions taken will be eye-opening to many who read this book.

(Whether an IT contractor like Jerry could uncover such a scheme seems slightly far-fetched to me.) Nevertheless, I agree with the author’s point that real superheroes are often ordinary people who step up when called.

Final Thoughts     

Overall, I really liked Virus Bomb and recommend it to my blog readers. Numerous technical terms are introduced and brought to practical online life in memorable ways. Most of all, it is a fun read that helps to show the intricacies of online threats — along with the scary realities of a potential cyberwar. I found the book to be entertaining and informative at the same time — which is a difficult combination.  

For those readers who like the TV show Mr. Robot, this book is not as technical. However, it is perfect for those who do not consider themselves to be technical experts or hackers, or even those who do not have tech backgrounds.

My overall review grade for Virus Bomb is 4 stars (out of 5). It would make a nice Christmas present for those who like to read similar novels, and it is available at Amazon.com.  

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