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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 listeners say about Countdown to Zero Day

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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.

3 people found this helpful

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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 people found this helpful

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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 person found this helpful

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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.

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Great read!

Have you ever came across a news article and thought, "how on earth did that not start a war?! How was this not headline news all over the whole globe?". This is exactly that. The implications of this type of warfare are truly terrifying.

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USA vs Iran

great for learning about cyber state warfare, this give insight to how things begin

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meticulously researched and scary

this is a real eye opener about how sophisticated hacking can be and basically how completely vulnerable to it the world is. the actual story of the stuxnet is a fantastic space age James Bond caper, but the wider implications of all of this: how sophisticated these hacking strategies are, and the fact that small innocent peripherals that were designed before the internet was even a thing can be used to drop physically destructive payloads is really quite sobering

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The only 'known' cyberattack, as of writing

I liked how it started, how it described the computational thinking behind the worn. You actually don't even need be tech minded to grasp this. So for me the book has three main focuses: the worm, the team that cracked it, international laws. The international laws part seemed to drag on a bit, but was still necessary to the story.

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brilliant, well researched and narrated book

Really well researched, thought through and insightful book about a watershed moment in cyber security and cyber warfare: "Stuxnet". highly recommend it to anyone interested in information security and the world order!

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  • AS
  • 18-11-20

Good book, but a bit too long

Provides a lot of info, but sometimes dives too much and I failed to see the relevance.

Otherwise, pretty interesting. Reader absolutely ok.

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  • John Tangney
  • 01-03-20

Overzealous editing and lifeless reading

Joe! Ochman! likes! to end every! few! words! with an exclamation! This makes listening! to him very! very! tiresome!

I'll skip over his mispronunciation of names and uncommon English words.

Now, the book. Ms. Zetter put together an incredible and horrifying account of the deployment, discovery, reverse-engineering, and aftermath of Stuxnet. I found her political analysis to be very, very good — not surprising, given her background and experience. It left more informed, and yes, more uneasy about the world we live in.

The book was marred by what appears to be an overzealous editing process. Some common technical terms and concepts are explained in unnecessary depth (complete with tortuous, eye-rolling analogies,) while less common terms are used without explanation. I have a feeling that the over-explanations were added after the fact, perhaps by a nervous editor? The book most definitely does not need them, and anyone who is reading a book about Stuxnet can be assumed to have a basic grasp of what, e.g., a worm is.

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  • Scott
  • 21-12-14

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.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Nicolas Gutierrez
  • 21-12-14

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!

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  • Baumerx20
  • 02-05-15

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 people found this helpful

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  • Greg
  • 22-11-14

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.

11 people found this helpful

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  • JD
  • 16-06-21

Very interesting

Was technical and clinical but added enough drama to be interesting. Poses very important cyberwarfare ethics questions that still to this day have not been properly addressed.

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  • Trib
  • 11-06-21

Well researched

The amount of research put into this book is incredible. This was very, very good. Also, I almost didn’t get this because of reviewers complaining about the narrator. I’m glad I went for it. I think that the complaints are unfounded. The performance was on point.

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  • KAD
  • 20-04-21

romanticizing the unexciting

the real (and interesting) story is not how a bunch of computer specialist dissected the Stuxnet virus. The real protagonist are the ones who created and implemented it.....and no one will likely know that story.

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  • Nathaniel Burford
  • 23-03-21

Interesting, but becomes repetitive.

The story of this historical event is very interesting. The writer does a good job of making the technical information understandable. The style of story telling becomes a little repetitive and starts to sound like a string theory near end as events continue to get recounted from every conceivable vantage point.

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  • Mark
  • 06-11-20

Detailed look at computer virus

Fast moving detail packed exploration of stucksnet and related trojan/malware software. Finally diving into origins and motivations for creation.