Using computers, social media and the Internet are a part of the daily lives of nearly 3 billion people. That’s a staggering number, but one that makes it easy to understand why controlling the online world and, more importantly, the ways people access it and the information that can gleaned from those who use it, are things some will stop at nothing to achieve.
Enter Chris Bruen, former Department of Justice prosecutor and current partner in the law firm Reynolds, Fincher and McComb, where he specializes in data security. In his position at the DOJ it was Chris’s job to track down and prosecute big-time hackers. He’s parlayed that experience, as well as some personal hands-on hacking experimentation during his early teen years, into now showing massive corporations how they can protect themselves from the kinds of people he used to run to ground.
That’s the setup for a new series from Reece Hirsch, author of the previous standalone legal thriller The Insider, which was a finalist for the 2011 International Thriller Writers Award for Best First Novel.
The first novel featuring Bruen, The Adversary, finds him dispatched to Amsterdam to retrieve a stolen source code. More than simply the ripoff of a proprietary piece of software, however, the code in question is the one that runs the majority of the operating systems in the world: small and large, commercial and private, even some governmental and military. Upon arriving at the location the suspected hacker had been tracked to, Bruen finds not the stolen code, but a dead body. Things spin quickly out of control from there, with Bruen finding himself personally targeted, and set up, by a group of black hat hackers intent on releasing a devastating computer virus known as Lurker. In order to stop the potentially globally crippling plot, Bruen has to both decode the virus and figure out why he has been placed in the group’s crosshairs, all while managing not to get caught by the multiple law enforcement agencies mistakenly hunting him as the cyber attack’s mastermind.
The second in the series, Intrusion, finds Bruen once again dealing with high-level hackers, though the potential fallout this time has international political ramifications. The book opens with the CEO of Zapper, the world’s largest search engine, summoning Bruen to a mysterious meeting in the wee hours of the night. Upon his arrival, Bruen can’t help but notice Zapper has assembled a Who’s Who of white hat hackers and cyber security experts. It seems Zapper has been hacked, its coveted search algorithms stolen.
Far more insidious than simply some rogue black hat hacker showing off for fun or ransom, the trail appears to lead back to someone in the People’s Liberation Army of China. Accordingly, Bruen heads to China, where he ends up with a hard drive containing information people are willing to kill for, people who won’t let pesky details like borders and laws stop them from trying to prevent Bruen from exposing the information he finds.
In addition to simply being damn good thrillers, Hirsch has tapped into areas of concern about cyber crime and data security that are either already happening, or are frighteningly on the verge of doing so. The Sony Pictures hack, cyber attacks on The White House that have been traced to both Russian and Chinese hackers over the past few years, cyber security consultant Chris Roberts’s claim that he can hack into and take over the flight control systems of airliners, millions of people’s personal data being compromised, Virgina-based cyber security firm Mandiant’s report identifying Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army as the source of cyber attacks against over 100 corporations—events reminiscent of all appear in The Adversary and Intrusion.
And in that regard, both books make for reads that are more than merely page-turners; they are actually informative. While at the same time weaving an intriguing web of fiction, Hirsch also explores the very real potentially devastating economic effects that could occur as the result of theft of proprietary U.S. corporate technology by a rival nation, as well as the complex ethics of hacking in general—what right, if any, is there for information to be “free” to the world? Hirsch, himself a nationally recognized privacy and security law expert, brings a level of detail and ripped from the headlines urgency to the storytelling that will cause you to rethink everything you thought you knew about your online playground and just how safe it is…or isn’t, as the case may be.