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Hacking a Terror Network: The Silent Threat of Covert Channels



Hacking a Terror Network: The Silent Threat of Covert Channels

I had high expectations for this book. As asp.netNOW readers know from my other review of Syngress fictional accounts of good technology put to bad uses, I had an enormously entertaining and educational experience reading Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent and other real-tech fictional thrillers from this publisher (read my review of Stealing the Network). Even more enticing was that the author of Hacking a Terror Network was a contributor to Stealing the Network. Unfortunately, although the book began with an interesting premise, it quickly ran out of steam and sputtered across the finish line.


The premise is that of a cyber-terrorist who has employed the use of stenography over the Internet to coordinate attacks on US interests. That s pretty much it. Although the author attempts to flesh out the book s characters and their motivations behind such ruthless actions, I hardly ever cared what happened to any of the characters or their intended targets. And the focal point of the book on the theory and practice of digital stenography seemed strained, as if the author initially hoped to explore more covert channels but either his real-world restrictions on divulging classified information or the simple fact that not much beyond stenography and a summary of other covert channels discussed in the last chapter of the book exist.


In fact, one of the most enlightening covert storage areas disclosed in the last chapter, which discussed hiding data in Microsoft s Alternate Data Streams (ADS) within NTFS, wasn t even used in the story. Practicing such data hiding only pertains to a Windows NT-based environment on a local area network or device, but given additional ingenuity, this weakness could have been creatively exploited in the story instead of relying on the tired JPEG hide and seek references.


Another annoyance was the author s attempt to crawl inside the mind of Middle Eastern men and women intent on wreaking havoc on American soil. Such associations often came off as tired clich s and generic terrorist stereotyping. Even though the author claims to be a certified Arabic linguist, he failed to give me any unique insight into the mind of such individuals besides those ideas already exploited by Hollywood in nearly every recent movie presenting a terrorist as the primary antagonist.


There must be some sort of classification and threat levels the US government uses when assessing individuals prone to terrorist activity; such taxonomy could have been an interesting conversation between Jeremy, the story s sort-of hero, and his boss Neil, both of whom work for the Department of Homeland Security. Other technically advanced agencies such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Security Agency (NSA) are mentioned in the book, but only as black boxes that solve the hard problems. I was hoping for an introspective look into the inner workings of these agencies, even if it s based on external guesstimates. It would have at the very least made the story more interesting.


I coincidentally read Dan Brown s 2002 thriller Deception Point (the book he wrote before his controversial blockbuster The DaVinci Code) in between reading chapters of Hacking a Terror Network, and the stark contrast between the two authors art of storytelling and expressive writing skill were painfully apparent. Now if Syngress could somehow convince Dan Brown (or more likely, discover a writer with Dan Brown s penchant for thrillers with more twists and turns than an injured earthworm) to get together with the talented collection of Syngress security experts and technologists, the blend could potentially be an incredibly exciting and painstakingly accurate technical tour de force. Until then, I can only hope that the next real-world technology baked into a fictional story published by Syngress will exceed the bar they ve set for themselves with the Stealing the Network series.


Mike Riley



Title: Hacking a Terror Network: The Silent Threat of Covert Channels

Author: Russ Rogers

Publisher: Syngress Publishing

ISBN: 1-928994-98-9

Book Web Site:

Price: US$39.95

Page Count: 382



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