• Countdown to Zero Day

  • Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon
  • By: Kim Zetter
  • Narrated by: Joe Ochman
  • Length: 13 hrs and 1 min
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Release date: 11-11-14
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Random House Audio
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (157 ratings)

Regular price: £29.59

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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 members say

Average customer ratings

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    5 out of 5 stars

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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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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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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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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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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Fantastic

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

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Well worth the listen

As someone who works within the area of industrial control systems, this was a great insight as to how far stuxnet and other digital weapons went to achieve their goals.

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Excellent material

Great book a little bit too much detail in the procedural operations as opposed to the technical

Non the less very good and a real eye opener to what your fridge may do to you one day on executive orders

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Enjoyable story and well read

Enjoyable story and well read. In some places it can be repetitive. Enjoyed the performance of Joe and kept it interesting. Learned lots about the virus I never knew about and also cleared up some misconceptions I had about the virus.

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Very enjoyable but not for the faint of geek

A very interesting book packed with great technical detail but this may not be a good thing for those people who prefer less tech and more story. Personally, I found it riveting. The narration is clear but lacked variation however this was better read than a lot of much bigger productions I have listened to. I would definitely recommended this if you're interested in security or computer forensics.

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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.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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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.

7 of 9 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Encino Man
  • 02-06-15

Well Researched but "Preachy"

The first 75% of the book is well-researched and enjoyable. Unfortunately, the last 25% preaches the unlikely belief that if the makers of Stuxnet (US & Israel) opened the door for countries such as North Korea, Iran and others to do their own cyber warfare. Is he kidding? North Korea is involved with everything from counterfeiting U.S. currency to kidnapping, not to mention nuclear extortion. Stuxnet may or may not have been a good idea, but to think that nation states such as North Korea somehow now feel okay with their own cyber programs because of Stuxnet is just more rehashing of the age old (and I believe discredited) argument that it is the U.S. militarism that has caused other nations to do the bad things that they do and that if we were nicer then everyone else would be as well. I'm not sure that the beheaders of ISIL would agree but wouldn't it be be great if the world was devoid of bad people -- sadly it's not.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for Brad
  • Brad
  • 18-02-15

A New Form of Terrorism Is Born

What did you love best about Countdown to Zero Day?

The literal genius that went into creating the first digital weapon as well as the literal genius it took to find it and figure out what is was. I really appreciated how this book read like a fictional spy novel at times. I had to keep reminding myself that this is non-fiction. If you are wondering how resourceful our government is when it comes to stopping global terrorism listen to this book.

Who was your favorite character and why?

The entire team at Norton Anti Virus. To me they are both heroes and truly the brilliant minds of our time. The way they stuck with finding the answers to exactly what was behind the Stuxnet Virus was impressive. They could have stopped at any time but they had to solve this puzzle for themselves as much as the computer community. Their dedication went so far as to learn a new computer programing language that they would never use in the real world, just to learn more about the Stuxnet Virus.

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

I have not but I would again. It was a very good performance.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Blessed are the GEEKS as they will dominate the earth.

Any additional comments?

I did not give the book five stars as some parts of the book are very technical. I am in the IT industry and it was a bit much for me. It did not take away from the story as a whole but it did slow the story down in a few spots. I understand it was important to have the information in there to help us understand the scope and power of Stuxnet but it was not my favorite part of the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • PT
  • 13-02-15

A Good Adventure Story--and Peek at the Future

This is a book that makes a complex subject understandable and enjoyable.

I bought my first PC in 1984. I am a self-taught user with a degree in journalism. As a technical writer I have written many software manuals, but nothing as complex as this. So I admire Kim Zetter's achievement here. I think anyone would appreciate how well the subject is explained.

There's also a lot here about implications for the future, along with appraisals of the SOTA. And all of that is very chilling.

I think the US may be woefully unprepared for cyberdefense and when the lights go out, it will be scary indeed. I hope some people with the power to prevent that will read this book. The difference between 9/11 and cyberwar is that we KNOW there will be a cyber war someday. This book shows our part in getting it started. (A necessary evil, IMO.)

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for Umoumlex
  • Umoumlex
  • 06-02-15

I loved

I love the fact that it's a very detailed counter of what's happening in cyberspace.it's worth didn't my time I would read it again it's like imagining a movie.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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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.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • ceemax579
  • 21-12-14

excellent insight on The Stuxnet virus

What did you love best about Countdown to Zero Day?

The whole book was very enlighting. Very ingenious and clever craftwork on the Stuxnet virus. We ASKED Iran to halt nuclear enrichment. But Instead boosted production. Hense the results.....EXCELLENT STORY TELLING.

What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

The background of information was very informative. And just how it worked. Which reminds me never to buy a windows machine running Microsoft software.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Profile Image for Nicolas Gutierrez
  • 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!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Mr. Sagiv Hadaya
  • 02-04-18

great story but way too repetitive

the story is amazing and very detailed but could be told in half the time. i felt it was repeating the same info and details many times to make the same cases..