Review: Digital Fortress–A Thriller

3 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Intelligence (Government/Secret)
Digital Fortress
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3.0 out of 5 stars Marginal Mish-Mash, Annoying to the Intelligence or Digital Professional

October 7, 2007

Dan Brown

This could have been a great book, but the author chose to mix up a kludge of capabilities, fabrications, and red herrings that in the end do nothing other than irritate the intelligence or digital professional looking for a good read.

The “chapters” are 3-6 page vignettes. The book is totally out of touch with reality and I seriously question whether the author actually had help from two “anonymous” NSA employees.

NSA is cash poor–it does not pay well, all of the money goes to beltway bandits that over-charge for single-point technology solutions and outsourced butts in seats.

There is no 5 story crypto vault. Crypto is the LEAST important aspect of what NSA does–pattern analysis and finding links between specific communications devices is 80% of what they do.

NSA does not run clandestine human agents (at least not legally) and it does not do break & entry, that is done by a special CIA unit that is has been my privilege to help on multiple occasions when I was in the clandestine service.

The NSA translation capabilities are largely software, not hardware.

Navy Commanders are in their 30’s and 40’s, not “56” and certainly not also Deputy Directors of NSA, a flag officer position generally held by a civilian while the Director is a three-star flag officer.

Bottom line: this book is flawed on so many levels I explicitly do not recommend it to anyone, professional or casual.

A *much* better story was told by Winn Schartau in the late 1980’s, see his excellent novel (more truth than fiction), Terminal Compromise. Buy it used, it is still on the mark. Other books by Winn Schwartau that are much better than this low-rent pulp are Pearl Harbor Dot Com; Cybershock: Surviving Hackers, Phreakers, Identity Thieves, Internet Terrorists and Weapons of Mass Disruption; and Information Warfare: Second Edition.

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