Worm author Mark Bowden is better known for his other non-fiction (non-technology) books Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo. He has a background as a journalist and has contributed to The Atlantic magazine. I was curious to know how a non-tech journalist would handle a story as complex as the Conficker botnet as some of the subtleties of technology are lost on people from outside the field.
In terms of timing Worm couldn’t have come out at a better time, Stuxnet autopsies were shedding light on the complexity of the software used to cripple Iran’s nuclear programme and at the time of my reading the book the details of FLAME started to permeate out into the public view.
Bowden did a good job getting to grips with the personalities that he chose to follow around Conficker and the hapless nature of the US government in facing the potential threat posed by Conficker; but I don’t think that he got under the skin of hacker culture or the technology.
Because of this aspects of the characters become cartoon-like and the technology in an overly superficial way that is more Marvel than Discovery Channel. And since no one knows who really built Conficker or what it was really designed to do it feels like one of them TV series that gets cut by the network half-way through first run with the script writers desperately trying to tidy away loose ends.
I found Worm a welcome break from the academic books that seem to be my life at the moment, but somewhat wanting in terms of substance. More book reviews can be found here.