Guest post: Cyberwarfare thriller THE ADVERSARY by Reece Hirsch welcomes author Reece Hirsch in a guest post discussing cyberterrorism. Reece’s first book, The Insider, was a finalist for the 2011 International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel. Now he’s got a new technothriller published by Thomas & Mercer.

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Summary: Former DOJ cybercrimes prosecutor Chris Bruen walks into a dark apartment in Amsterdam to confront a hacker known as Black Vector. The hacker has stolen the source code for the world’s most ubiquitous operating system, which powers everything from personal computers to the NSA’s data centers. This should have been a routine assignment for Bruen, but instead of obtaining a confession, Bruen finds the hacker’s dead body and uncovers a hidden flash drive that contains the code for a remarkably sophisticated computer virus known as Lurker.

Upon his return home to San Francisco, Bruen finds himself the target of a shadowy group of hackers who plan on unleashing Lurker, which will bring a major US city to its knees in seven days. Bruen doesn’t know why he’s the target, but the answers seem to lie somewhere in his troubled past. Suddenly, Bruen is framed as the planner of the cyberattack, making him the top suspect in an international manhunt. Bruen must stay ahead of the FBI and CIA in a race across Europe while he tries to decode the virus, find the hackers, and clear his name. With the lives of tens of thousands of people hanging in the balance, and his own life about to be destroyed, Bruen must go beyond the brink to stop the hackers.

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Author Reece HirschGuest post by author Reece Hirsch

Thanks for having me as a guest at Science Thrillers. My new thriller THE ADVERSARY (Thomas & Mercer) explores the scary prospect that we may be entering a new age of cyberterrorism. Computer viruses are no longer merely harmless annoyances that muck up your home computer.

THE ADVERSARY is inspired by the real threats posed by a new generation of computer viruses exemplified by the so-called Stuxnet virus. Stuxnet is a computer worm, or virus, discovered in 2010. The Stuxnet virus was specifically designed to target the centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment center, causing the delicate machines to speed up or slow down and then explode like so many expensive shrapnel bombs.

Unlike a bomb that is destroyed upon detonation, however, the code that makes up a weapon of cyberwarfare like Stuxnet remains out there in the world after it has been deployed. Stuxnet was designed to erase itself after it achieved its purpose, but the code malfunctioned and the virus was spread via the Internet, thus bringing it to world’s attention. THE ADVERSARY considers what might happen if the code for such a dangerous, state-sponsored virus came into the possession of black hat hackers who retooled it into a weapon of cyberterrorism that could be turned back against the U.S.

When I began writing THE ADVERSARY, I was basing my story on oft-repeated rumors that Stuxnet had been created by the US and/or Israel. As I was finishing the book, those rumors were confirmed in a June 1, 2012 article in the New York Times in which David Sanger reported that Stuxnet was indeed part of a joint operation of the NSA and Unit 8200, its Israeli counterpart, dubbed “Olympic Games,” which was begun under President George W. Bush and expanded under President Obama. The Times further reported that the Stuxnet virus may have set back the Iranian nuclear program by 18 months to two years.

The Lurker virus that is central to THE ADVERSARY is closely modeled on Stuxnet, including the way it operates by taking control of programmable logic controllers (PLCs). PLCs are digital computers that govern a vast array of mechanical functions, from manufacturing assembly lines to traffic lights to the electrical grid.

The creation of new viruses like Stuxnet has stirred a new debate about what constitutes warfare between nations. But this is clearly not warfare in the traditional sense. It can be conducted anonymously and by small groups of individuals. In traditional warfare, the identity of the adversary is usually apparent, in the form of a plane dropping a bomb or an invading army. Sophisticated, “smart-bomb” computer viruses like Stuxnet could pose threats to our critical infrastructure, like the electrical grid, chemical plants or nuclear facilities, but the barrier to entry is much lower than what is needed to develop a nuclear weapons capability. And the enemy could be virtually anyone possessing the necessary technical expertise.

My protagonist Chris Bruen is a former Department of Justice cybercrimes prosecutor who now helps clients combat hackers and cybercriminals in private practice. I drew a bit on personal experience in writing the Bruen character because I’m also a privacy and security attorney. While I admittedly took a few liberties in the service of a fast-paced thriller, I can assure you that the central premise of THE ADVERSARY is very real and very scary.

To learn more about Reece Hirsch and his books, visit his website.

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