Stuxnet – the world’s first digital weapon has gotten a magisterial treatment courtesy of Kim Zetter’s newest book, Countdown to Zero Day. If you’ve already forgotten about the Stuxnet worm, it was developed as a weapon against Iran’s nuclear program and discovered in fall 2010. Zetter recounts the historical importance of this malicious software and its place in history. If you’re unfamiliar with virus wrangling or have forgotten the details of what was happening in 2010, don’t worry. Zetter superbly blends background details with an eye for fleshing out historical events. The book felt as fresh now in 2016 as it would have in 2010. There’s also simple explanations offered (with copious footnotes) so that the average reader understands the scope and impact of Stuxnet as the first digital weapon.
Despite being easy to read and understand, Zetter doesn’t pander to the knowledgeable reader. I got just as much enjoyment out of this book as I would have had if I didn’t have the background to understand the myriad topics covered in the narrative. In short, Zetter struck a wonderful balance between being informational and reporting important details in a manner that made sense for a wide range of readers. The only downside is that the exact details behind the Stuxnet operation still isn’t conclusively proven, but Zetter’s wonderful reporting legwork has pretty much proven her assertions that it was a joint United States – Israel military project.
The target for Stuxnet was the Nantanz Nuclear Facility in Iran and as can be seen above (and in the narrative), it’s really hard to attack it as a military target. Digitally attacking the nuclear facility with a destructive worm solved multiple issues without having to actually carry out physical military attacks. Understanding how isolated this facility is is central to understanding how Stuxnet came to be – it would have been really nice for a couple of diagrams or a map to be placed somewhere in the book to better illustrate the remoteness of the location central to the book.
If you’re interested in computer science, military history, nuclear engineering, or well-reported accounts of historical import, look no further. Zetter’s tome will set the bar for future books about digital weapons or events shaped by the impact of the digital age. There aren’t many other books out there that I’d compare Countdown to Zero Day to, given its length and focus on one object or event. Perhaps the best comparison would be something akin to a modern The Power Broker by Robert Caro. Definitely one of the best nonfiction books in the past decade, and comes recommended to anybody at all interested in the narrative as I’ve outlined above. Even if you’re not slightly interested, you might get sucked in after the first few pages.
Overall grade: B
Publisher: Broadway Books
Binding: Perfect bound paperback (Good)
Paper: Matte, newsprint-like, Cover stock is slightly inferior (Acceptable)
Affiliate link: Countdown to Zero Day (Amazon)
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.