The Boston Diaries

The ongoing saga of a programmer who doesn't live in Boston, nor does he even like Boston, but yet named his weblog/journal “The Boston Diaries.”

Go figure.

This is a spoiler laden review, just to let you know. If you don't want to know details about the book Digital Fortress, leave now. You may want to read some of my initial impressions of the book—this picks up where that left off.

Hale nodded thoughtfully. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

Susan looked puzzled.

“It's Latin,” Hale said. “From Satires of Juvenal. It means ‘Who will guard the guards?’”

“I don't get it,” Susan said. “‘Who will guard the guards?’”

“Yeah. If we're the guards of society, then who will watch us and make sure that we're not dangerous?”

Page 135

And with that, Dan Brown has to spell everything out for us. Susan, with an IQ of Einstein, and works for the NSA in cryptography, has never heard that phrase before and not only needs a translation (okay, not everyone has studied Latin) but has to have it explained to her.

And if that wasn't bad enough, on page 391:

Becker shook his head. “No, it reads, ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes.’ It translates roughly to—”

“Who will guard the guards!” Susan interrupted, finishing David's sentance. [like duh! Of course she finished David's sentance—we can see that! Oh, sorry! —Editor]

Becker did a double-take. “Susan, I didn't know you could—”

“It's from Satires of Juvenal,” she exclaimed. “Who will guard the guards? Who will guard the NSA while we guard the world? It was Tankado's favorite saying!”

Page 391

Just to drive the point home you know.

My notes also include the following, which I have to set up. Susan discovered that Hale (a fellow cow-orker) had snooped on her computer and aborted an email trace (which is impossible given how email actually works, but hard solid facts will never stop author Dan Brown). In retaliation, she broke into Hale's computer and found email from Tankado (who's threatened to release an unbreakable encryption system and an ex-NSA employee with an axe to grind) in Hale's account, leading her to believe that Hale is Tankado's “partner” (who will release the encryption system for free if Tankado is killed, which he is on page one) known only as “North Dakota”:

Guess @ Ch 41—Hale is actually reading Strathmore's email, and Strathmore is Dakota

Well, I was partially right—Hale was reading Strathmore's email but Strathmore wasn't North Dakota—he was intercepting Tankado's email! So Strathmore knew about Digital Fortress (the unbreakable encryption system written by Tankado).

Now, here's where things get silly. Tankado had put Digital Fortess on his website, but it's encrypted with itself, so it can't be used unless you have the key.

Hold on, I'm being serious here.

Yes, the program is useless and won't run because it's encrypted using itself—unless you have the key to decrypt it. Then you can decrypt Digital Fortress so you can use Digital Fortress to … um … decrypt Digital Fortress … um …

Yes, I have no idea how that would work either.

But even sillier, Strathmore intends to install a backdoor into Digital Fortress (once he's found the key to decypt it), then installing that version on the Tankado's website. The plan being, if the NSA can't break it, then everyone will use the program, but since Strathmore installed a back door, then the NSA will be able to read anything encrypted by it.

I should note that this is Strathmore doing this, on his own, without the help of the rest of the NSA.

Like it's that easy.

And like the program will never be checked for backdoors. Or even new features added and bugs removed. Nope, once written, the program will be used as is, forever.

This book is amusing in its silliness.

Chapter 105—the multistory NSA computer finally explodes in a fireball of death due to the virus infecting it (that, and since main power has been cut, the auxilliary power can't keep up with cooling the 3,000,000 processor behemoth, so of course it explodes in a beautiful Hollywoodesque manner—I swear I could feel Dan Brown pining for the film rights).

Or this bit of technobabble:

``Viruses reproduce. They create clones. They're vain and stupid---binary egomaniacs. They pump out babies faster than rabbits. That's their weakness---you can cross-breed them into oblivion if you know what you're doing. Unfortunately, this program has no ego, no need to reproduce. It's clear-headed and focused. In fact, when it's accomplished its objective here, it will probably commit digital suicide.''

Page 371

You got me—I certainly don't understand it. I have no idea how one would “cross-breed” a virus into oblivion, but then again, I don't have an advanced degree in anti-invasive programming (mentioned on page 238).

“We've got a five-tier level of defense,” Jabba explained. “A primary Bastion Host, two sets of packet filters for FTP and X-eleven, a tunnel block, and finally a PEM-based authorization window right off the Truffle project. The outside shield that's disappearing represents the exposed host. It's practically gone. Within the hour, all five shields will follow. After that, the world pours in. Every byte of NSA data become public domain.”

Page 377

“X-eleven.” I like that. Dan Brown must have felt it sounded cool.

And yes, that character's name is Jabba. Care to guess how he's described?

“Director!” Jabba exploded. “When those firewalls fall, every user on the planet will be issued top-security clearance! And I'm talking upper level! Records of covert ops! Overseas agents! Names and locations of everyone in the federal witness protection program! Launch code confirmations! We must shut down! Now!”

Page 378

“The shields can'na take it, Captain! They're giving all they've got!”

I guess the concept of unplugging the routers never occured to them. Or even shutting down the computer(s) under attack.

Sheesh.

Plan 9 from Outer Space wasn't as silly as this.

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