Review: WORM – The First Digital World War

5 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Complexity & Catastrophe, Congress (Failure, Reform), Economics, Executive (Partisan Failure, Reform)
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Mark Bowden

5.0 out of 5 stars Huge Story, Most Readers are Not Getting the Point,March 19, 2012

I've been a fan of Mark Bowden's since I was asked to investigate how he got parts of his story for Killing Pablo: The Hunt for the World's Greatest Outlaw. Speaking with him directly, already knowing he was a gifted writer, I added patriot and truth-teller to my short list of his attributes. This book would normally be a four for lack of an index, schematics, and perhaps some photographs of working spaces to achieve some contextual sense, but given all the negative reviews that are in my view off the mark, I am going with a five.

Most of the reviews of this book are in my opinion missing at four HUGE points:

01) Microsoft is the source of most of our problems because they build sloppy code and do not do due diligence. Apart from the fact that Microsoft is exceeded in evil only by Google, both of them holding third party developers hostage to mutating APIs and neither of them being at all interested in helping empower human cognition with tools for thinking, Microsoft sells second-rate software backed up by first-rate legal and marketing. The word is long over-due for dumping not must Microsoft, but Apple as well. India just followed Richard Stahlman's advice and pushed Microsoft out of their universities, they are creating the open source alternative, and as I like to paraphrase that world, “put enough eyeballs on it, no bug is invisible.”

02) The US Government has been irresponsible clueless on cyber-security since the 1990's when Winn Schwartau, Jim Anderson, Bill Caelli, and I put together a warning letter and a one billion dollar a year budget that was blown off by Marty Harris of the NII. More recently, for Homeland Security Today, I did a piece on America's Cyber-Scam. Over $15 billion a year is being spent by the US Government in our name for cyber-security, and there is no connection between all that money going to fraud, waste, and abuse, and the 67 folks in the USA, some of whom are part of this book's account, who actually understand code level security and counterintelligence.

03) We have met the enemy and he is us. I completely disagree with the reviewer who complains about the use of original emails interspersed throughout the book. The author has done a phenomenal job of having full access to both the written record and the individuals in the story, and the message that keeps coming across is that the US Government may be unleashing some of the malicious software, not understanding in its ignorance what it is doing; and at the same time, being unable to remediate.

04) I recently closed my original website OSS.Net, for the past twenty years hosted in Sweden. One of the tiny handful of websites that was created in 1993, I am restoring it here in the US. In the process I have learned quite a bit about how vulnerable knowledge is to an Internet meltdown and to the present lack of proper conventions for knowledge access across the Internet. Imagine the Library of Congress and the Library of Alexendra burning to the ground on the same day, times a million. Although OSS.Net is available view Brewster Kahle's wayback machine, the plain fact is that as long as the original site is down, 95% of its content is not easily accessed via wayback machine or any other way. What this book does, and most seem to miss this point because the protagonists were SUCCESSFUL, is show how easily much of our knowledge could be lost forever, at the same time that we lose functionality of key systems for days, weeks, or months.

I put the book down with two feelings: first, that I had learned a great deal I had not known, especially about the “good guys” that are NOT secret, NOT federal, and NOT expensive (I already know the US Government is secret, expensive, and ineffective); and second, deep anguish over the continued lack of integrity across the US Government. I was on the national committees for information handling, advanced information processing and analysis steering group, and so on, and comes out loud and clear toward the end of this book is how nothing has changed since I left government in 1993: still good people trapped in a bad system, a system that ignorant, toxic, expensive, and not at all concerned with the public interest.

In my view this book is a research classic, and it should be reprinted with an index–of course the Kindle edition, Worm: The First Digital World War can be searched–at least I hope it can–but a proper index would make this book more valuable, at least for me. I really would have liked some maps of where each of the protagonists is based, some schematics of the networks, etcetera.

I read in 98 categories, and Phi Beta Iota the Public Intelligence Blog has several categories including Advanced Information Operations and Autonomous Internet, apart from my book review categories on Information Society, Information Technology, etcetera. Below, within the ten link limit that amazon imposes, are some other books I recommend:

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution – 25th Anniversary Edition
The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit
The Hacker Crackdown: Law And Disorder On The Electronic Frontier
Terminal Compromise: Computer Terrorism in a Networked Society
The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage
Computer-Related Risks
The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters (New in Paper)
Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become

I cannot link to my own books, but I do want to point to the one forthcoming in June, THE OPEN SOURCE EVERYTHING MANIFESTO: Transparency, Truth & Trust. Random House will be distributing it but I hope everyone buys it here on Amazon. Proprietary software does not scale. Secret integrity is an oxymoron. We are at a crisis point and the US Government is not part of the solution. If we do not go “open everything” we will not achieve resilience and sustainability. The core lesson of this book is that the US Government is out of it, and the good guys in the private sector are too few in number to overcome the corrupt code that characterizes Microsoft, Google, and all the rest.

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