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Countdown to Zero Day

Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon
Narrated by: Joe Ochman
Length: 13 hrs
Categories: Non-fiction, Politics
4.5 out of 5 stars (39 ratings)

Non-member price: $46.14

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Publisher's Summary

Top cybersecurity journalist Kim Zetter tells the story behind the virus that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear efforts and shows how its existence has ushered in a new age of warfare - one in which a digital attack can have the same destructive capability as a megaton bomb.

In January 2010, inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency noticed that centrifuges at an Iranian uranium enrichment plant were failing at an unprecedented rate. The cause was a complete mystery - apparently as much to the technicians replacing the centrifuges as to the inspectors observing them.

Then, five months later, a seemingly unrelated event occurred: A computer security firm in Belarus was called in to troubleshoot some computers in Iran that were crashing and rebooting repeatedly.

At first, the firm’s programmers believed the malicious code on the machines was a simple, routine piece of malware. But as they and other experts around the world investigated, they discovered a mysterious virus of unparalleled complexity.

They had, they soon learned, stumbled upon the world’s first digital weapon. For Stuxnet, as it came to be known, was unlike any other virus or worm built before: Rather than simply hijacking targeted computers or stealing information from them, it escaped the digital realm to wreak actual, physical destruction on a nuclear facility.

In these pages, Wired journalist Kim Zetter draws on her extensive sources and expertise to tell the story behind Stuxnet’s planning, execution, and discovery, covering its genesis in the corridors of Bush’s White House and its unleashing on systems in Iran - and telling the spectacular, unlikely tale of the security geeks who managed to unravel a sabotage campaign years in the making.

But Countdown to Zero Day ranges far beyond Stuxnet itself.

©2014 Kim Zetter (P)2014 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Part detective story, part scary-brilliant treatise on the future of warfare… an ambitious, comprehensive, and engrossing book that should be required reading for anyone who cares about the threats that America - and the world - are sure to be facing over the coming years.”"(Kevin Mitnick, New York Times best-selling author of Ghost in the Wires and The Art of Intrusion)
"Unpacks this complex issue with the panache of a spy thriller… even readers who can’t tell a PLC from an iPad will learn much from Zetter’s accessible, expertly crafted account." ( Publishers Weekly)
"A true techno-whodunit [that] offers a sharp account of past mischief and a glimpse of things to come… Zetter writes lucidly about mind-numbingly technical matters, reveling in the geekery of malware and espionage, and she takes the narrative down some dark electronic corridors.... Governments, hackers, and parties unknown are launching ticking computer time bombs every day, all coming to a laptop near you." (Kirkus)

What members say

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A Thrilling Eye-Opener

Although we all know about computer viruses, few of us have much of an understanding of how much of a role cyber-warfare plays in international espionage and sabotage.
Countdown to Zero Day does a great job in enlightening us about all levels of cyber attack and defence, focussing on the extraordinary Stuxnet attack interwoven with countless other examples.
With a good balance between intrigue and technical detail, it held my attention the whole time. Well written and well read.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Brilliant recap of the political and tech aspects

Brilliant recap of the political and the technological aspects of stuxnet and the teams behind it

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  • Scott
  • 21-12-2014

Engrossing cyber whodunit

What did you love best about Countdown to Zero Day?

This is an utterly engrossing true life tale of the coders who unraveled the where when's and how's of the Stuxnet virus. Part cyber detective story, part geopolitical thriller, Countdown to Zero Day deftly takes the listener through the efforts of a small group of private cybersecurity experts who stumbled upon the virus and through dogged effort began to unravel its components to discover its true purpose. Wisely, the author reveals this piecemeal, mirroring the experiences of the cyber sleuths as they slowly crack the multidimensional virus. There are no big or juicy revelations here - anyone who has followed Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons technology will have heard about Stuxnet and the alleged role the US and Israel played in it. Rather, Countdown intrigues in an All the President's Men sort of way - how intrepid doggedness on the part of ordinary people (substitute coders for reporter) can uncover the darkest and most hidden reaches of power.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Nicolas Gutierrez
  • 21-12-2014

WOW! It will open your eyes

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes! specially now that the Sony hacked is in the news!
Most of us are blind to the back door of all the things we do online. This books explains how mayor hacks are possible and how easy they can take place.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Yes!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Baumerx20
  • 02-05-2015

Interesting Story, Terrible Production Quality

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

No. I would recommend the physical book, but not the audio book. It is terribly produced.

What did you like best about this story?

The story presented a speculated account of the Stuxnet virus and the first time the United States has ever used a digital weapon against a country. Note the US has not publicy acknowledged credit for this attack however based on the accounts of a variety of sources the author explains in excellent detail, the events surrounding this attack.

What didn’t you like about Joe Ochman’s performance?

It wasn't Joe's performance that was bad. It was the Production team who produced the book, and some of the decisions they made. First the reading of a book very obviously written by a woman by a male reader was kind of an odd choice. If you read or listen to a lot of books you can usually distinguish writing styles and descriptions which can be very distinctly male or female. There are points in the book where Kim, the author pretty much gushes over one of her sources, Ralph Langner. The way she describes him as a rock star and how he is portrayed in the book comes across a little silly when read by a man. Not to say that males don't gush over other males, but knowing this book was written by a woman makes it odd. I swear you can hear Joe(the reader) smile during some of these descriptions and phrases.Second the use of Acronyms in audio books is difficult. This book uses a TON of acronyms and in a physical book it is ok to define the acronym once then use the acronym letters for the rest of the book. However in an audio book it sounds ridiculous and is terrible to the point of laughing out loud, to skipping ahead, to uncomfortably struggling to listen to. That and if you don't listen to the book in one sitting you have no idea what the acronym stands for anymore. Good producers know how to assist in creating continuity by either spelling out the acronym each time, which is ok or working with the author to augment the book for an audio book reading. This comes across as lazy and unbearable at points.

What’s the most interesting tidbit you’ve picked up from this book?

The whole book was very interesting. Kim takes a very technical topic and provides an insight to a topic that normal or non technical people can understand.

Any additional comments?

Overall the book was very good and I recommend reading it in place of listening as this audio book was not produced very well.

8 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Greg
  • 22-11-2014

Amazingly detailed, sober and above all, damning

Digital warfare generally conjures up bad science fiction imagery and seems more fanciful fiction than reality... However, that changed when Stuxnet was discovered, a carefully multiple pronged attack against Iran's secretive nuclear weapons program.

"Countdown to Zero Day" chronicles the discovery Stuxnet from its origins in Belarus, and follows the painstakingly detailed researched conduncted by a truly international cast, from Symantec researchers in the United States, Kaspersky Labs in Russia and security firms in India.

Kim Zetter carefully introduces the mystery of who wrote the Stuxnet virus and takes plenty of intermissions to explain the instability and insecurity of industrial control systems, and the very real threats they yield, as told by real world incidents, controlled tests and government experts assessment.

The book is measured, and isn't written as a fear-mongering piece, advocating more security but rather how the United States rushed head first into a new domain of espionage and war without ever fully considering the ramifications. It's painfully damning George Bush Jr and Barrack Obama's administrations.

Joe Ochman is almost a non-entity, transparently blending into the content and I mean this as a positive. I barely registered him as I was lost within the content. He's exceptionally easy to listen to, and never distracting. For a book that requires mostly narration, he's a great match.

Kim Zetter is extremely versed in his technology, and painstakingly details each major reveal in the case of Stuxnet as a hodgepodge of global researchers chase the rabbit continually further down the hole.Zetter isn't afraid to critique, often using quotes between security firms and government representatives to express the problematic nature of our digital platform. Towards the end, Zetter quotes and deconstructs the mantra, NOBUS (Nobody but us) used by the NSA, as an inherently flawed and naive view of cyber-security. Essentially, the inaction of government agencies to report weaknesses, flaws and glitches to save as a goodie bag for the United States puts everyone at risk as its arrogant to assume the United States will be the only ones who can use an exploit, and the "digital missiles" can be caught, deconstructed and fired back. In digital warfare.

Having read, Mark Bowden's Worm, about Conficker, Zetter avoids pandering and cuts into the technical aspects without apology. It's sure to alienate less technical readers. Those unfamiliar with patch Tuesday and the significance of out-of-band updates from Microsoft, or even what a zero-day exploit is, may want to start with Worm as a primer.

This book isn't for everyone due to the technical nature of it. I could easily see an average reader getting lost or eyes glazing over at times. As someone who's livelihood is tied web development, and followed stuxnet in the news, this book is fascinating. I remember clearly being blown away when the MD5 collision attack was discovered as it essentially confirmed that Stuxnet was made by nation-state actors.

In the end, it's wild ride, stranger than fiction journey that involves international conspiracies, assassinations, wildly intelligent researchers across the entire globe. By the end, while you never learn who the faces are behind Stuxnet, you'll have zero doubts about which nations were behind it.

10 of 18 people found this review helpful

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  • Lacy
  • 08-06-2019

Ties together political and technology aspects

Very comprehensive book. Covers many facets of stuxnet, some I knew but many I did not. Goes in detail covering political, and technical details and tying them together.

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  • Ben Rudolph
  • 05-06-2019

Stuxent and more

I've listened to and read a lot about Stuxnet. I've always been mystified by the complexity of the hack. Zetter brings more than just the pure technical side of Stuxnet; she dives into the social, political, and economic impacts of Stuxnet. At the time of listening, Baltimore is being held hostage due to a leaked hack "Eternal Blue" that was developed by the NSA. Zetter predicts this and more. I'm terrified how cyberwar will escalate in the future.

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  • Thomas
  • 29-05-2019

Fascinating

Learned a lot of background infirmation on Stux net I never knew before and was completely engaged throughout the entire book.

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  • Christopher Frueh
  • 27-05-2019

Great book about a greater story

An exceptional story albeit missing more recent developments from the Equation Group. An excellent book with well-researched details.

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  • Pipergal
  • 17-05-2019

Terrifying!

This book is an absolutely terrifying look into security, vulnerability, war, and espionage. Great read!

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  • lou siegel
  • 01-03-2019

The New World

Compelling topic, vital to understand for our times.
Understandable to the Les person.
Highly recommend.

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  • N. Dwyer
  • 18-04-2015

Intriguing story - well told!

An interesting contemporary subject well researched and told. Great level of detail that doesn't distract the listener from the main context of the story. I enjoyed it very much

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Just little old me
  • 01-04-2015

Fascinating subject and an amazing story

Well researched, probably bit too much detail for me, but a wake up call if ever there was one. Makes me want to run to the hills .. It's so hard to build 'safe' connected systems. Started listening to security now on twit.tv to try to keep up with the latest what is going on. Any IT person should read/listen to this book and think very hard about what they are doing and how to protect themselves.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Matt Jackson
  • 06-05-2015

Intriguing from the first minute

Where does Countdown to Zero Day rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Hanging off every word for the whole duration, perfectly delivered.

What did you like best about this story?

The way it tells you the accounts from various perspectives helps you get a worldwide view of the story as it goes along.

Have you listened to any of Joe Ochman’s other performances? How does this one compare?

Never.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

No.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • R D Droy
  • 31-12-2014

Scary but informative

This book was brilliant. It reads like a thriller but is the true story of the first cyber warfare attack on Iran. Detailed and meticulous research is coupled with a real understanding of the wider political context of the age. There are some highly technical chapters but I got used to the jargon fairly quickly and didn't worry too much if I didn't understand every aspect of the computing systems.
Narrated in a factual way, clear and at a reasonable pace..
Learnt a great deal by reading this book and will take more notice of virus attacks in the future.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Alex
  • 22-09-2019

Very interesting events. Could be half its length

The Stuxnet story is just amazing for a number of reasons. The book is a very detailed account of the events but it is painfully longer that it should be. The flat narration makes it even more boring, but tbh I don't know how much livelier it could be given the content. On the plus side, the author concludes the book with a very ethical stance.

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  • Dylan Kelly
  • 16-07-2019

Impressively researched

really enjoyable, impressivly researched story. A must read for anybody interested in computers or technology

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  • Andy
  • 16-01-2019

Worth a listen

Very interesting, a good listen.
I already knew about the whole stuxnet incident but this went in to a lot more detail than what I had already heard.

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  • LD's
  • 21-12-2018

Amazing recollection and scary at the same time!

I really enjoyed how detailed the author described the events around the mystery of Stuxnet, how it was thought, planned, created, developed and released and all its legal, ethical and technological ramifications.

Totally worth to listen. The Stuxnet release happened a decade ago. It is important to understand what’s coming and what we should expect in the future.

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  • Dan W.
  • 25-02-2018

Fascinating.

Only a nation state with vast resources could have created this cyber weapon. Hundreds of people must have been involved in creating it.

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  • Luis1989
  • 26-10-2017

Fantastic

Extremely educational but fun at the same time as it reads like a spy novel. Much less technical than you may think.