Countdown to Zero Day

  • by Kim Zetter
  • Narrated by Joe Ochman
  • 13 hrs and 1 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Top cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter tells the story behind the virus that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear efforts and shows how its existence has ushered in a new age of warfare - one in which a digital attack can have the same destructive capability as a megaton bomb.
In January 2010, inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency noticed that centrifuges at an Iranian uranium enrichment plant were failing at an unprecedented rate. The cause was a complete mystery - apparently as much to the technicians replacing the centrifuges as to the inspectors observing them.
Then, five months later, a seemingly unrelated event occurred: A computer security firm in Belarus was called in to troubleshoot some computers in Iran that were crashing and rebooting repeatedly.
At first, the firm’s programmers believed the malicious code on the machines was a simple, routine piece of malware. But as they and other experts around the world investigated, they discovered a mysterious virus of unparalleled complexity.
They had, they soon learned, stumbled upon the world’s first digital weapon. For Stuxnet, as it came to be known, was unlike any other virus or worm built before: Rather than simply hijacking targeted computers or stealing information from them, it escaped the digital realm to wreak actual, physical destruction on a nuclear facility.
In these pages, Wired journalist Kim Zetter draws on her extensive sources and expertise to tell the story behind Stuxnet’s planning, execution, and discovery, covering its genesis in the corridors of Bush’s White House and its unleashing on systems in Iran - and telling the spectacular, unlikely tale of the security geeks who managed to unravel a sabotage campaign years in the making.
But Countdown to Zero Day ranges far beyond Stuxnet itself.

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What the Critics Say

"Part detective story, part scary-brilliant treatise on the future of warfare… an ambitious, comprehensive, and engrossing book that should be required reading for anyone who cares about the threats that America - and the world - are sure to be facing over the coming years.”"(Kevin Mitnick, New York Times best-selling author of Ghost in the Wires and The Art of Intrusion)
"Unpacks this complex issue with the panache of a spy thriller… even readers who can’t tell a PLC from an iPad will learn much from Zetter’s accessible, expertly crafted account." (Publishers Weekly)
"A true techno-whodunit [that] offers a sharp account of past mischief and a glimpse of things to come… Zetter writes lucidly about mind-numbingly technical matters, reveling in the geekery of malware and espionage, and she takes the narrative down some dark electronic corridors.... Governments, hackers, and parties unknown are launching ticking computer time bombs every day, all coming to a laptop near you." (Kirkus)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Engrossing cyber whodunit

What did you love best about Countdown to Zero Day?

This is an utterly engrossing true life tale of the coders who unraveled the where when's and how's of the Stuxnet virus. Part cyber detective story, part geopolitical thriller, Countdown to Zero Day deftly takes the listener through the efforts of a small group of private cybersecurity experts who stumbled upon the virus and through dogged effort began to unravel its components to discover its true purpose. Wisely, the author reveals this piecemeal, mirroring the experiences of the cyber sleuths as they slowly crack the multidimensional virus. There are no big or juicy revelations here - anyone who has followed Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons technology will have heard about Stuxnet and the alleged role the US and Israel played in it. Rather, Countdown intrigues in an All the President's Men sort of way - how intrepid doggedness on the part of ordinary people (substitute coders for reporter) can uncover the darkest and most hidden reaches of power.


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- Scott

Amazingly detailed, sober and above all, damning

Digital warfare generally conjures up bad science fiction imagery and seems more fanciful fiction than reality... However, that changed when Stuxnet was discovered, a carefully multiple pronged attack against Iran's secretive nuclear weapons program.

"Countdown to Zero Day" chronicles the discovery Stuxnet from its origins in Belarus, and follows the painstakingly detailed researched conduncted by a truly international cast, from Symantec researchers in the United States, Kaspersky Labs in Russia and security firms in India.

Kim Zetter carefully introduces the mystery of who wrote the Stuxnet virus and takes plenty of intermissions to explain the instability and insecurity of industrial control systems, and the very real threats they yield, as told by real world incidents, controlled tests and government experts assessment.

The book is measured, and isn't written as a fear-mongering piece, advocating more security but rather how the United States rushed head first into a new domain of espionage and war without ever fully considering the ramifications. It's painfully damning George Bush Jr and Barrack Obama's administrations.

Joe Ochman is almost a non-entity, transparently blending into the content and I mean this as a positive. I barely registered him as I was lost within the content. He's exceptionally easy to listen to, and never distracting. For a book that requires mostly narration, he's a great match.

Kim Zetter is extremely versed in his technology, and painstakingly details each major reveal in the case of Stuxnet as a hodgepodge of global researchers chase the rabbit continually further down the hole.Zetter isn't afraid to critique, often using quotes between security firms and government representatives to express the problematic nature of our digital platform. Towards the end, Zetter quotes and deconstructs the mantra, NOBUS (Nobody but us) used by the NSA, as an inherently flawed and naive view of cyber-security. Essentially, the inaction of government agencies to report weaknesses, flaws and glitches to save as a goodie bag for the United States puts everyone at risk as its arrogant to assume the United States will be the only ones who can use an exploit, and the "digital missiles" can be caught, deconstructed and fired back. In digital warfare.

Having read, Mark Bowden's Worm, about Conficker, Zetter avoids pandering and cuts into the technical aspects without apology. It's sure to alienate less technical readers. Those unfamiliar with patch Tuesday and the significance of out-of-band updates from Microsoft, or even what a zero-day exploit is, may want to start with Worm as a primer.

This book isn't for everyone due to the technical nature of it. I could easily see an average reader getting lost or eyes glazing over at times. As someone who's livelihood is tied web development, and followed stuxnet in the news, this book is fascinating. I remember clearly being blown away when the MD5 collision attack was discovered as it essentially confirmed that Stuxnet was made by nation-state actors.

In the end, it's wild ride, stranger than fiction journey that involves international conspiracies, assassinations, wildly intelligent researchers across the entire globe. By the end, while you never learn who the faces are behind Stuxnet, you'll have zero doubts about which nations were behind it.
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- Greg

Book Details

  • Release Date: 11-11-2014
  • Publisher: Random House Audio