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Top Cat was on the move. Telling this story presents Bowden with some challenges, though. One of them is what he calls "the glaze" — which is the vacant expression that comes over non-geeks when you try to explain in any sort of detail the difference between a port mirror and a remote thread. The other is that, looked at superficially, what he has on his hands is a shaggy dog story.

Mark Bowden - Worm: The First Digital World War - WHYY

The internet did not crash. Prophecies of Cybarmageddon were not realised. Some very clever good guys did their best to contain a program made by some very clever bad guys and they sort of succeeded. So to make the story exciting he needs you to understand what's at stake: and that relies on putting across a certain level of technical detail before the glaze descends. Plus, he needs you to invest in his characters a little.

Worm: The First Digital World War (Unabridged)

He overcomes these difficulties at the cost of a certain babyishness in the telling. There are lots of exclamation marks and overheated analogies.


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Digital security experts are variously cowboys, ninjas, superheroes or "locked in the old and eternal battle of good v evil, God v Satan", and every chapter head comes with an epigraph from, for Pete's sake, The X-Men. Now, I like The X-Men as much as the next man unless the next man works in a comic shop , but this could all be dialled down a bit.

BookTV: Mark Bowden, ""Worm: The First Digital World War"

The Conficker story would be interesting to grown-ups without this sub Top Gun hoo-hah. In the first place, even simplified for the lay reader, the elegance and audacity of the sparring between Conficker's still unknown creators and the "white hats" who set out to thwart them is gripping. But more than that, it tells us something scary about how vulnerable the internet is, and something rather encouraging about how ingeniously and selflessly people can cooperate in its defence.

What's most shocking is how clueless the US federal authorities were about Conficker. While independent malware-busters were registering web domains on their own credit cards, and talking domain registry services and private companies all over the world into co-operating with the struggle, the US's supposed cyber-security establishment was still just cottoning on to the version of the worm that had emerged two months previously.

The punchline? Nothing has yet happened.

But the Conficker botnet is intact, its command mechanism is in place and its creators are still out there. Was it a platform for criminal profit, or a weapon? Security experts do not know for sure what Conficker's purpose is, or even where it came from. Bowden, the best-selling author of Black Hawk Down, has delivered a dramatic cybercrime story that explores the Conficker computer worm, a potentially devastating computer virus that has baffled experts and infected as many as twelve million computers to date.

Watching and waiting. The bad guys haven't gone away, you know.

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