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Microsoft Windows guru turns to cybercrime (fiction)

Bill Gates endorses 'what if' scenario

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One of Microsoft's top Windows gurus and author of books and tools for securely coding Windows has embraced fiction with a debut tackling international cyber crime.

Platform and Services Division technical fellow Mark Russinovich has delivered a Die-Hard-4-style novel called Zero Day.

It tells the story of Osama-bin-Laiden-backed terrorists exploiting our decadent, infidel society's over-reliance on computers and the web.

Russinovich's site calls his work a chilling "'what if' scenario that, in a world completely reliant on technology, is more than possible today—it’s a cataclysmic disaster just waiting to happen".

We're not sure that's a call to unplug or download more service packs, but we read on anyway:

An airliner's controls abruptly fail mid-flight over the Atlantic. An oil tanker runs aground in Japan when its navigational system suddenly stops dead. Hospitals everywhere have to abandon their computer databases when patients die after being administered incorrect dosages of their medicine. In the Midwest, a nuclear power plant nearly becomes the next Chernobyl when its cooling systems malfunction.

The hero connecting all these dots is disaffected former government analyst Jeff Aiken, apparently disgusted by "the gross errors that led up to 9/11." The love interest is the "'stunningly attractive' Daryl Haugen, an old friend". The authorities are a mix of both pencil necked incompetents and traitors: "Jeff attempts to warn the authorities, but to little avail."

While this might excite those shopping for an easy read in their airport book shop before boarding that 10-hour flight to Seattle it's not burning up the world of publishing.

Endorsements have come from Russovich's ex-boss Bill Gates and Barack Obama's White House cyber security czar Howard Schmidt. According to Gates: "In his latest compelling creation he is raising awareness of the all too real threat of cyber terrorism."

Russinovich's earlier creations include Inside Windows 2000 and the Windows Internals series.

He created Sysinternals, which developed Windows administration and diagnostic tools and was bought by Microsoft in 2006 because he was doing such a bang-up job of exposing problems in Microsoft's code. Russinovich also co-founded Sysinternals.com, where he's written Windows utilities, including Regmon, Process Explorer and Rootkit Revealer.

Famously, in 2005 he exposed spyware installed by Sony BMG on its CDs that was intended to prevent copying of media running on Windows machines, but that crippled your PC if you dared removed the code. Sony's sloppy coding subsequently attracted the attention of then New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

Schmidt, meanwhile, appears to see Zero Day as a call to vigilance: "The risks that he writes about eerily mirror many situations that we see today." Russinovich taught Windows internals, troubleshooting and file system and device driver development to the CIA and the FBI.

Publishers Weekly gives Zero Day a cooler reception here, reckoning Russinovich's debut is by and for keyboard jockeys. "The author effectively employs the usual genre types-government traitors, amoral hackers, professional assassins-but his main characters spend too much time at the keyboard to build up much heat," it writes.

Thanks to a Reg reader for the tip. ®

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