© 2012 Mark Russinovich
Something sinister is developing in the depths of the dark net. There are inexplicable power outages in Washington, and misinformation filtering through the systems of the United Nations. Jeff Aiken and his partner Daryl Hagen, having previously unmasked an al-Queda cyber attack against the United States, suspect this is more a technical conspiracy than buggy software — and one that spans all of Eurasia.
Trojan Horse is a cyberthriller that leads with Jeff and Daryl’s computer forensics before shifting into a more conventional action thriller once the government that authorized the cyberattack against the United Nations realizes their software is being sniffed out. The first half of the novel is more thoughtful and detailed than CSI-style cyber mysteries; there’s no guy-staring-at-computer-typing-furiously, but a lot of trouble shooting and mulling over how the software intrusion might work. Interest in cybersecurity helps to take it on, but the last half is far easier going: the malicious agents attempt a street abduction, and much action follows, culminating in a car-and-airplane chase from the Czech Republic through Turkey into Iran.
I especially enjoyed Trojan Horse for its characters. The men conspiring against the interests of the UN/US, and on behalf of China and Iran, are antagonistic without being diabolical. The Americans, Iranians, and Chinese are all cold professionals, working on behalf of their respective nation-states. The Iranian lead, Ahmed, and his Turkish girlfriend/courier Saliah, are no slogan-screaming jihadists; they’re practically lapsed, religiously.. After abducting the sleuths to find out what they know, Ahmed instructs his men to dispense with their guns – they’re not gangsters, and weapons are no longer required. Daryl, Aiken’s partner in work as well as romance, is similarly complicated. When she and Jeff are abducted, it is her cold fury that the Iranians fear more than Jeff. Physically, he’s a threat…but she is, by Ahmed’s estimation, utterly deranged.
Trojan Horse is a thriller far more relevant than the kind previously unreleased, because the sort of cyber intrusion detailed here happens every day. Both the American Department of Defense and American corporations are constantly attacked by sources within the Chinese state. A tool the Chinese use to follow the main characters’ cell phones sounds like the Stingray device employed by American intelligence agencies, and more frequently ordinary law enforcement: it mimics a cell tower, then tracks phones which connect to it – the phone’s owners are completely in the dark. If nothing else, a thriller like this is worth trying just to see what we’re in for in the 21st century.