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Worm: The First Digital World War

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  2,118 ratings  ·  292 reviews
From the author of Black Hawk Down comes the story of the battle between those determined to exploit the internet and those committed to protect it--the ongoing war taking place literally beneath our fingertips.

The Conficker worm infected its first computer in November 2008 and within a month had infiltrated 1.5 million computers in 195 countries. Banks, telecommunications
Hardcover, 233 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Atlantic Monthly Press (first published January 1st 2011)
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Average rating 3.58  · 
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Will Byrnes
There is a war being waged in the world today. Not one of the many you read about in newspapers (or newsfeeds) or the ones you see on your televisions and computer screens. This war is going on while we sleep, eat our breakfasts and go about our business, in our cities and suburbs, in the homes of our major industries, in our home computers. Forget the annoying daily viruses that attack, primarily, Windows systems, spewing unwanted spam; forget the unwanted pop-ups that emanate from the same sou ...more
Amar Pai
Jun 13, 2012 rated it did not like it
Conficker is the "first Digital World War?!" Get the f*** out of here. Ugh, I knew I remembered Mark Bowden from somewhere. He wrote Black Hawk Down. Not a bad book but you can't shoehorn every damn phenomenon into the category of "war"! As the saying goes, when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

This book is an utter waste of time. If you're interested in the subject you already know everything in it. Do we really need yet another recounting of the internet's origins, ARPANET etc?
May 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: business, technology
I have learned some very basic, geeks how could you know it, information. Definitely written for those of us who have little clue on how a computer works.
By adulthood most of us know that if you cannot imagine the end result, don'the start. Well, the Internet began before those doing the connecting thought about security. Considering that the early connectors were the government and large universities,the lack of security shows a lack of maturity. So now we are playing catch-up with barely effe
Nov 27, 2012 rated it did not like it
This book was simultaneously pandering and condescending, plus one of the more melodramatic books I've read in a long time. It's aimed squarely (and I think cynically) at "geeks" and "nerds" who apparently know nothing about computers. Despite almost every single example of an "uber nerd" in the book being basically the opposite of a stereotypical basement-dweller, Bowden treats it as if that's a massive surprise as every new character is introduced. He constantly refers to "the glaze" and "the ...more
Lee Penney
Aug 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
The subtitle for this book is: The First Digital World War. That’s overstating it, to be honest. The book focuses on the creation of the world’s largest botnet by a worm called Conficker back in 2008.

At its peak, it was estimated to have infected between 9 and 15 million machines, and even as late as 2011 was still on roughly 1.7 million. That made it the largest botnet recorded. If all of the devices were used to transmit data together, there was a real possibility it would have overwhelmed the
Sep 30, 2011 rated it it was ok
This book was Ok. I decided to read it after hearing him speak on Fresh Air. I felt like he did an Ok job of conveying technical information to a presumably non-technical audience. The author will be the first to admit that he's not a technical person, and unfortunately, I do think this comes across in his writing - you can tell that he spent some time coming to understand the various complicated issues involved, but I think that an author who has a more technical background would be able to use ...more
Ben Vogel
Jan 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
An account of the Conficker worm written for everyman and a pretty excellent primer on computer viruses. I enjoyed learning this stuff from Bowden who handles the technical subject with his usual deft prose. Entertaining and quick moving for 80% of the book. If you feel like skimming through the parts where it details the personality battles between the major players, no one will mind. I found them interesting too.
Mark Ebbole
Mar 02, 2019 rated it liked it
overall i think the author did a reasonable job in recounting the story of conficker. i question whether he was the right person to tell the story. he also presents this strange emphasis on “us vs them” in terms of how the average person understands computers and the internet vs how experts understand them. he makes frequent use of geek stereotype to describe the look and behavior of the experts that worked to thwart the worm. at times it reads like a jock’s research report for a computer litera ...more
Mal Warwick
Oct 05, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The True Story of How Hackers Almost Brought Down the Internet -- and Still Could

It’s out there. Waiting. Chances are, you’ve never heard of it. Nobody knows who controls it, or why. No one knows what it will do. But its destructive capacity is terrifying.

Welcome to the world of cyberwar! And, no, this is NOT science fiction.

“It” is the Conficker Worm, an arcane name (an insider’s joke) for the most powerful “malware” — malicious software — yet encountered on the Internet. First detected in No
Apr 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
I'm a pretty technical guy, having been in the IT industry for a couple decades, so I was expecting that this book would talk down to me a bit. I get it, it has to appeal to the lowest common denominator, and in this case, it is the literate-but-not-computer-expert crowd. It turns out it was written for my mom. Okay, not my actual mother, but the kind of person that is literate but has no more than a vague concept of how computers work, and that there's a difference between a computer, a network ...more
Jakub Rehor
The story of a hunt for a malevolent hacker is a well-worn genre. The first and best book of this sort was Clifford Stoll's "The Cuckoo's Egg" which came out in the early 1990s. Clifford Stoll was the man who discovered and tracked down one of the first cyber-espionage attacks on the US; his book was fast-paced, well-written, and incredibly well informed about the inner workings of then-novel network called the Internet.

Mark Bowden is not a computer professional and it shows. He writes fluidly a
Fred Fifield
Oct 26, 2018 rated it liked it
This book started out great but then it's almost as if the author gets bored with it and it limps to the finish. While it lasted it was a good story about how computer viruses and worms are combatted and the people that do this work. ...more
May 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
HIghly readable and fascinating account of a real cyber attack, the first of its kind. If you liked Stoll's Cuckoo's Egg, you will like this. Now I want to go to school for a new degree! ...more
Aug 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
3 and half stars

I thought it was a novel and instead this book is a chronicle of the fight against the impressive Conficker worm. In any case, it is a very interesting reading for those interested in knowing how the Internet works.
Michelle Blackburn
Jan 09, 2018 rated it liked it
A computer book I understood, my guys will be so proud! An eye opening look behind the scenes at what we take for granted.
Oct 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads, 2011
Bowen's latest is an extremely readable, quick history of the Conficker "worm" or malware virus and a loose-knit group of technologues who banded together to defeat it. If you're a technology-illiterate skeptic like me (who, on your worst days, borders on Kaczynski-esque delirium), reading Bowen's elucidation of the internet's inherent fragility will not surprise you.

You may be surprised, however, by how readily you catch on to the usually opaque matter of network administration and such digi-ho
Sep 15, 2011 rated it liked it
Who could have imagined that the entire Internet almost went poof and no one really knew or cared about it? But it did, and the fact remains that it could still happen today, or tomorrow, or in 100 years from now. This book details the effort to stop and contain the biggest and most potentially destructive computer worm ever to hit the Internet. Dubbed Conficker the worm has infected millions of computers around the world, and it was being fought by a small group of computer programmers who coul ...more
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
FFS, no. This book is essentially about the Conficker worm/botnet from some years ago. Conficker is reasonably interesting as a subject, but this book is painful for two reasons. First, it's basically a book about a nerdy topic, for nerds, who know nothing about anything in this area -- sort of like writing a military book with lots of military topic for people who have never read a military memoir and who know nothing about the military or related topics. It's simultaneously too detailed and to ...more
Jul 13, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
So glad I got this from a library. Barely made it to end of first chapter. A howler on page 4, but not relevant to the subject so fair enough. Another much worse on p5. (Personal computers weren't on the market in 1984? Really???) Hyperbolic writing style, as if author had only discovered computers existed the year previously. Gosh! Wow! Geeks! And so condescending towards the subject matter. Quotes a technical explanation as an aside with the sneery "Got that?" Well yes, I kind of did. Fair eno ...more
Jan 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
About a computer worm that created the largest botnet in history, capable of taking down the entire internet, and the cabal of volunteers that tried to fight it. Like most modern wars, this battle doesn't have a clear ending. At its height the worm had infected 10 million computers, and today it still commands a formidable botnet of 400,000. I enjoyed reading about the in-depth investigation and the story behind it. Will be reading more "books about a single event or thing" this year since I lik ...more
Oct 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
I'm not tech-savvy in the slightest. I can open word and Firefox on my old laptop, but that's about as far as my knowledge extends. I also don't read non-fiction very often, so when reading a book like this one I'm not sure what I'm supposed to keep an eye out for, what to question or where to direct my criticism.

That all being said, I found this book extraordinarily interesting and engaging. It gave me a look into a world I know little to nothing about and captured my imagination.
Apr 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2012-reads
This is a breezy read but I didn't learn much beyond what I did from reading Bowden's Atlantic article. And unless one wants to know what members of the anti-Conficker Cabal looked like (especially, strangely, their hair), then reading the article is probably a better use of one's time. And it had fewer typos. ...more
May 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: computers
A solid piece of journalism. As far reaching as the event described was even the author is aware of its appearance of having come to nothing. The result is an anticlimactic story. Yet, it was a significant event which has done permanent damage and the implications are frightening. Read this if you are interested in computers and want a view of the people protecting the internet.
Jan 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating book! I know just enough to get through work and life using a computer. This book shows so much we DON'T know and, while it's scary, it's good to be enlightened. It's a book that hasn't lost its timeliness. Anything else I say wouldn't be worthwhile, except that if you use a computer at all, you need to read this book to prepare yourself. ...more
Jun 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Randall Russell
Sep 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found this book to be quite interesting - I had not realized how serious the Conficker virus was, or that it had the potential to collapse the entire internet. The book centers around a loose confederation of software and IT nerds who're all involved in the internet in various roles, and how they (mainly) successfully keep the virus under control. That being said, the book also highlights the myriad vulnerabilities of the internet, not the least of which is that no one is "in-charge" (which al ...more
2008-2009 Internet security faced a new threat. A sophisticated worm that created a bot army of 1.5 million computers in 195 countries. This is the story of the detection and fight against this still mysterious hacker and/or hackers.

Why I started this book: Another Professional Reading list titles.

Why I finished it: I started this book thinking that it was a novel. I confused this blurb with another title, so I was waiting for the novelization for the first third of the book. Many reviewers ha
Wes F
Mar 20, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite an overall fascinating read regarding internet security & fraud--mainly focused on the Cornficker worm that has infected thousands & thousands of computers loaded with the Microsoft Windows OS. MS really screwed it up with vulnerabilities to Port 445 (I think that was it--lots of #s swirled in this book). Interesting to read how vulnerable the infrastructure the internet worldwide is and how vulnerable US government/military internet networks are--and now LITTLE the US government, at least ...more
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a 3.5 for me. I am one of those people who know about the internet, but really have no clue as to how it operates; I just click and it's there for me. So, I definitely learned something about the internet's creation, how it works, etc. As for the worm, it was interesting to learn about in some parts, but dragged on in others; also, the cat-fights between the "tribe" members got to be a bit irritating. I think the fact that the worm (luckily) actually didn't cause much damage made for an ...more
Sep 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very interesting story about Conficker and the team that took on the challenge to make sure the Internet is safe. There's a lot of good information here about teams, dealing with personality issues, dealing with bureaucratic challenges, and the conversations that happened to make sure the awareness level of the public, private and government organizations was there. For someone who is in IT and had tried to explain something only to get a Glaze look from the listeners, this book is really relata ...more
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Mark Robert Bowden (born July 17, 1951) is an American writer who is currently a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, and a 1973 graduate of Loyola College in Maryland, Bowden was a staff writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer from 1979-2003, and has won numerous awards. He has written for Men's Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, Sports Illustrated, and Rolling Stone over the ...more

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