New in Plain Text

“Threats unseen are threats unbelieved,” says one terrorist in Hacking a Terror Network: The Silent Threat of Covert Channels, a new book by Russ Rogers. These unseen threats are the focus of Rogers’ book, about a fictionalized set of terrorists led by a young Arabic man who seeks revenge against the Americans whose bomb killed his brother.

Under the pseudonym Salah Aldin, the young man (a student of computers living in Canada) recruits others using Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels and teaches them methods of secure communications such as null ciphers. The CD that accompanies the book allows the reader to “hack along” with Salah and see, for example, how these simple ciphers can be decoded.

Salah uses other methods of coded communication such as steganography—messages hidden within digital photos on his Web site—to communicate with his team, and the reader is led through a discussion of how steganography programs work. The CD provides Salah’s Web site and its doctored photos, as well as demos of dozens of tools that create or detect steganography so that you can try the same tools that Salah and his intelligence-agent pursuers use.

Rogers certainly knows the technical and the intelligence issues involved. According to his bio, he’s worked with the National Security Agency and was a certified Arabic linguist in the military. He’s backed up by technical editor Matthew Devost, president and CEO of the Terrorism Research Center.

They make the terrorists and the intelligence agents seem credible and the plot believable. In its attempt to be Tom Clancy-ish, the prose sometimes veers toward the breathless, but the plot moves along quickly, only occasionally getting bogged down in the inevitable technical details.

Tighter correlation between the information on the CD and the corresponding sections of the book would have helped, and the screen shots in the book are sometimes dark and fuzzy. But these are minor quibbles.

Anyone with a computer and an interest in how groups such as al Qaeda may be using the Internet to plan attacks and recruit members will learn a lot from this book and CD.

Published by Syngress Publishing, Inc., Hacking a Terror Network is available from online retailers for $27.



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