ScienceThrillers welcomes Denison Hatch, author of Flash Crash, a financial technothriller released this week.
Summary: David Belov, a quant programmer working for an investment bank in New York, is blackmailed into writing an algorithm that will intentionally crash the gold market. David discovers that his virtual “Flash Crash” was simply a required stepping stone towards the largest physical gold robbery in history, and that’s he’s been framed for the resulting chaos, the lives of his beloved wife and son on the balance.
With Detective Jake Rivett and the NYPD’s finest operators from the Major Crimes Division actively seeking to locate and arrest David, and other, darker elements nipping at his heels, David is forced to confront his own past in order to have a future…
Hacking the Real World: Thrills abound in the “Internet of Things” era (from Flash Crashes to Pacemaker Assassinations).
Guest post by Denison Hatch
One cannot escape discussion of the “Internet of Things” in the current day, with Nest devices advertised at every Home Depot, refrigerators that tell you when you’re out of milk, and entire municipal systems controlled by computers from both central and cloud-based locations. And this is just the beginning. In ten to fifteen years, cars will also have joined the massive, interconnected world and the quaint “real world” that our parent’s generation grew up in will eventually be one that looks quite foreign to the socio-physical environment of the future. A recent study by Business Insider indicates that IoT-connected devices will continue to double every eighteen months for the foreseeable future. And as they do, they will permeate throughout every instance of our life—from the food we eat, to the way we travel and communicate, and all the way to commerce and the money we use on a daily basis.
I spent quite a bit of time researching the Internet of Things while doing research for my thriller novel, Flash Crash. Of particular interest to me was the way that financial markets have become increasingly controlled by technology. The old image—of a Wall Street trader who wears striped Brooks Brothers and operates, as my book describes it, on “luck, spit and a handshake”—is quickly fading from the modern zeitgeist. That person has slowly become replaced by the “quant.” The quantitative analyst or programmer, culled from a growing pool of ambitious PhD, mathematics, and computer science majors, creates computer systems that trade thousands of commodities and equities around the world. What’s more, modern investment banks and secretive-but-powerful hedge funds alike no longer trust the speed of the human brain when it comes to trading. Trading is conducted by super computers, located within inches from the exchanges that they are participating in, and conducting a modern version of electronic combat against one another. Counter-strategies are designed to root out other parties’ strategies. There is, indeed, an arms race occurring within the black boxes that control the modern financial world and it shows no signs of stopping.
This idea enthralled me, and brought about a parallel thought. What if someone could indeed engineer a program that would intentionally crash a particular stock or market?
While this idea would later become the basis from which I designed my thriller novel, I had to do my research. First of all, had something like this ever happened before? It turns out that both mini and major “Flash Crashes” have occurred throughout the market’s history. And they are increasing. A firm called NANEX keeps track of suspicious order flow and volume and subsequent correlation with Flash Crash incidences. It has been proven that there are numerous examples of unexplained crashes in financial markets—and major winners and losers on either side of these events.
It quickly became clear to me that individuals are using machines to enact very real—monetary—gain from the world. And this got me thinking: What else were people using machines to do in order to effect real-world events? Turns out, the possibilities for the “Internet of Things” world are endless. It gets both much darker, and much crazier. All of the following really happened:
- Dam Hacking: Iranian hackers infiltrated the industrial control systems of a dam twenty miles outside of New York City in Rye, NY. This event indicated to security officials in the United States that the water and electric supply in our country is now a valid target for both criminals and hostile nations.
- Car Hacking: Hackers remotely kill a Jeep on a highway and filmed it happening. Two researchers created a device that could and did hack into a retail-purchased Jeep Cherokee. They performed this hack with a reporter from Wired magazine sitting the in car.
- Nuclear Centrifuge Hacking: The Stuxnet virus is a mysterious and hostile computer virus created specifically to hack into the industrial control systems of the particular model and brand of centrifuge that Iran was using to develop radioactive material. Numerous articles have been written about the creator of the virus, thought perhaps to be a joint intelligence operation between Israel and the United States. But no matter who created it, the effect was real: Massive failures and attrition suffered by the targeted centrifuge devices.
- Pacemaker Hacking: Multiple researchers have presented hacked pacemakers and other medical devices (such as insulin pumps) in real-world settings. The real question is not if but when are we going to see our first pacemaker assassination?
As many know, the future doesn’t arrive neatly. As Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg famously said, his company’s motto is “Move fast and break things.” The creators of connected systems and devices around the world are certainly moving fast. But are they moving so fast that serious security problems will develop? This is the question that society must as ask we move forward together.
However, thriller writers and readers, especially those oriented towards the slightly more technical, will no doubt delight in many of the “quandaries” of the future presenting themselves within the plots and set pieces of the books they love to read.
With Flash Crash, we attempted to attack the reality of this new twist in the modern zeitgeist head-on. The book is all about controlling the real world through technology. One of our leads is David Belov, a quant who has pulled himself up by the bootstraps at every stage in life. After David is coerced into causing a crash in the gold market and framed for the resulting chaos, he must clear his name. This eventually leads David to literally hack a soda machine in order to create a Trojan horse which will lead him—and his compatriots—into an inaccessible vault buried under four stories of impenetrable granite and completely controlled by computers.
You can check out Flash Crash, now available on paperback and Kindle, here.
About the author:
Denison Hatch is a screenwriter and novelist based in Los Angeles. Although he lives in the proverbial desert now, he is originally from Delaware–land of rolling hills, forested valleys, and DuPont gunpowder.
Denison has a number of feature and television projects in development, including his original screenplay, Vanish Man, which is set up at Lionsgate. A graduate of Cornell University, Denison lives with his fiancé in a little house in Hollywood.
FLASH CRASH is Denison’s debut novel, and the first in the Jake Rivett series.