Please welcome Sam Boush author of All Systems Down
Describe the process you went through to write this particular kind of book.
In short, I read a lot of books and talked to a lot of experts. I’m not an information security wonk, myself, so I leaned a lot on the thoughts and works of others. I joined a lot of groups, interviewed experts, and ultimately tried to write a fun, compelling, and accurate book. It’s a work of fiction. But that’s not to say it couldn’t happen.
How do you feel about the security of our infrastructure?
No one with any expertise in this area thinks our infrastructure is safe. People at power companies have told me how vulnerable their systems are. People at nuclear plants have told me how hackers have targeted their operations. It’s not just the online or software spaces that are vulnerable, though. Firmware and computer chip manufacturing aren’t even safe, especially when those chips are manufactured in East Asia.
Isn’t Ipv6 supposed to be inherently more secure?
That’s my understanding. But there isn’t a system that’s safe from hacking. If it’s connected to the Internet (and sometimes even if it isn’t) it can be hacked.
Name some surprising things you found in your research.
So many things. Did you know the Iranian government accessed the control systems of a dam north of Manhattan? Or that the Russians recently used cyber war to destroy 30 Ukrainian Howitzers? Or that last year hackers from a group called Dragonfly 2.0 accessed American power grid operations so deeply they could have induced blackouts at will?
How would we prepare for something like a blackout?
A short blackout is simple enough. You need light (candles/flashlights), heat (firewood/blankets), and a way to cook food. Water still runs in a blackout, since water towers are filled using generators.
A long blackout is a different story. And a long blackout where generators aren’t working and emergency services are shut down… well, that’s not something I could prepare for.
Are you a prepper by any chance?
I’m not. Sadly, if disaster of any kind struck, I’d be out of food and water within the week. I don’t think many of my readers are preppers either, though I’ve had loads of people write in that they’re creating a cyber war emergency kit after reading the book.
Really, we should all be more prepared for emergencies than we are, no matter what kind. Here in the Pacific Northwest, a major earthquake is a reasonable concern. If my city were leveled by something like
that I’d be wishing I had a month’s worth of canned food!
Who is Pak Han-Yong and what motivates him?
Pak Han-Yong is a junior lieutenant in the North Korean army. Specifically, he’s a member of Unit 101, a hacking unit focused on asymmetric warfare. There are many complicated characters in All Systems Down, but he’s fairly straightforward. A nationalist, he’s devoted to crushing the American imperialist infrastructure as a way to punish the nation that has kept his own country from achieving its rightful glory.
What if you were Brendan Chogan? How would you survive?
This is the question that a lot of readers ask themselves: How would I survive if I were thrust, unprepared, into a global collapse of this scale? What would I do differently from the protagonist? Would I fortify my home, or leave?
If I were Brendan, I don’t know what I’d do. Maybe that’s part of the fun.
What are your favorite type of books to read?
I read a lot of non-fiction. But when I read fiction it’s sci-fi thrillers like Jurassic Park or technothrillers like The Hunt for Red October. But I read across genres, too. Right now I’m reading Stephen King’s Pet Semetary and David Benioff’s City of Thieves. I just finished Ken Follett’s Whiteout yesterday evening.
Name a few things you struggle with as a writer.
What don’t I struggle with? I have trouble finding time to write. It’s difficult to manage publicity, book signings, marketing and outreach with the ticking clock of my next book deadline. Not to mention the obligation and joy of family time, taking my kids to school, spending time with my greater family, my friends, and my wife.
Do you follow a method for writing or are you more intuitive?
My method is to write flawed characters, end every chapter on a cliffhanger, have every scene advance both plot and character, and never write anything boring. And I usually have a broad idea of plot, even going into the first draft.
What are you working on next?
Book two of The Cyber War series is coming along nicely. It picks up right where book one left off.
Sam Boush is a novelist and award-winning journalist. He has worked as a wildland firefighter, journalist, and owner of a mid-sized marketing agency. Though he’s lived in France and Spain, his heart belongs to Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Tehra, two wonderful children, and a messy cat that keeps them from owning anything nice. He is a member of the Center for Internet Security, International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium, and Cloud Security Alliance.
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