James's Reviews > Digital Fortress: A Thriller

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown
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Jul 12, 12

bookshelves: read-in-2012, littlefreelibrary
Read from July 04 to 12, 2012

A lot of reviewers are going to talk about just how bad this book is, and they're right.

Computer crytopgraphy is an ever-changing field, so it's no surprise that most of the "cutting-edge" technologies in this book don't really hold up to the present. That's understandable. I mean, the book was written in 1998. But it was outdated even for 1998. 64-bit encryption as something the public thought the NSA could crack? 3DES came out in 1998, using 112 bits. Heck, the Skipjack algorithm created by the NSA (and mentioned quite a bit in this book) used 80-bit encryption. Oh, and they're using 5-character passwords on their computers. Yeah, that's what the most paranoid, security-focused government agency would be doing.

I'm a network guy myself, so I also found it funny how everyone was terrified that as the firewalls came down, they wouldn't be able to shut down everything in time to prevent the secrets from spilling out. Forget going through a power-off sequence... If you're really in a rush and need to drop network connections, pull a card from your router. I know that back in 1998, Cisco routers were pretty bad at handling that type of interruption and would simply crash. No router, no network connection! Better yet, just unplug your ISDN lines. (Yeah, you're probably wondering what those are. They really had those back in '98, so that's not a big surprise. But it's pretty easy to go and unplug the cables as well. No need to worry about how long it takes to power off everything. Just kill the network connections. Oh, and the description of the firewalls is just funny. Oh no, they've bypassed the X11 filters! I'm not sure what type of hacker would be thrilled that the GUI was now working for him, but most of them would probably be working off a command line, and they wouldn't care about X11. And you're using FTP? In 1998, in the NSA? SSH was around, which meant you could do encrypted file transfers, but let's not do that with the nation's top secrets.

Okay, so the technology was bad. Still, it's a thriller, right? Gotta have some good action! Well, sure, if you assume that dumb luck is one of the major characters. Because that's how the Becker side of the story plays out. He talks to people, gets nowhere, and suddenly, fortune shines down on him and he just happens to get what he needs. And then he's chased by a contract killer, but again, dumb luck intervenes and saves him. And so on and so on. Without that dumb luck, the story would have been over several hundred pages sooner, and we wouldn't have seen any of the thrills.

Susan's story...well, it's not too thrilling. She pretty much plays the totally brilliant and hot woman who doesn't know how hot she really is and doesn't seem to make decisions that match her supposed intelligence level, damsel-in-distress type of character in the book.

It's Dan Brown, so if you're familiar with his writing style, you'll be happy to see that he's consistent. It's okay... I actually enjoyed some of his other books, but I know some people hate his style of writing. Not his best writing, but not the worst from him I've read either.
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