Daemon by Daniel Suarez
GLENN: Today Barack Obama is not giving up his Blackberry. He wants his Blackberry with him. Is this any kind of security risk? I mean, presidents don't carry Blackberries, Department of Homeland Security, nobody in government keeps e-mail. They don't use e-mail. He wants his Blackberry. Is this a security risk that way? Can you pinpoint where the president is? I mean, GPS, can you pinpoint where his Blackberry is because he's triangulated by cell towers? Are you watching 24? Is anybody watching 24? 24 right now has a story line where somebody has taken control of the systems of the United States, air-traffic control, they can control the power grids, et cetera, et cetera. This has been something that people have talked about for a very long time and they say that especially our power grid system is antiquated, old, and somebody could hack into it. They say that China has already been hacking into the systems in the United States and all around the world just to show "We can." But there is a book that was written by just a regular, I think it was a computer programmer and he self-published it because he saw this and he was like, oh, my gosh, this is really -- I mean, the attack would come in some way that nobody would expect. He self-published this book. It took off. Now it's being published by Penguin Books, I believe. The name of the book is Daemon and the name of the author is Daniel Suarez. And Daniel is with us now. Hello, Daniel, how are you?
SUAREZ: Hey, thanks for having me, Glenn.
GLENN: You bet. So you -- well, first of all, let me get to the Blackberry.
GLENN: Do you think the president having a Blackberry, is that a security problem?
SUAREZ: Well, for me personally I would think it would be because it's a commercial standard. That is, it's widely known. I think we would want the president to have something a little more unique that, as you said, couldn't be easily triangulated or any other number of exploits that might work against that platform. So a noncommercial standard I think would be a better one.
GLENN: I've talked to Chertoff and I've talked to John Ashcroft and both of them told me, "Oh, nobody uses e-mail. If people knew how insecure, unsecure e-mail was and how also that it just never goes away, people would never use e-mail ever again."
SUAREZ: Yeah, exactly. And e-mail bounces off of many servers on the way to its destination and it's all clear text on the way. So it's just an illusion any privacy you think you might have in e-mail.
GLENN: All right. So next question is are you watching 24?
SUAREZ: You know, I'm not. I've been really busy lately but I'll catch up with it on TiVo at some point but I will sounds like an interesting plot line.
GLENN: What they are doing is they are crashing plains, they are just taking over air-traffic control, they found a way to get in through the fire walls or whatever it is. I'm not a techy. But they found a way in. And China has done things just kind of probing and pushing into some of our infrastructure, and infrastructure around the world. You say in your book, and the great thing about this book is all of it is actual technology.
SUAREZ: That's correct.
GLENN: You say it's not going to come this way; it's even more frightening. Explain.
SUAREZ: Well, what I mean is that I think this cybergeddon scenario where, you know, federal officials are very concerned that somebody would crash all of our systems at once, I think that's -- although it's a concern, I think the bigger concern is the idea that our systems are being penetrated stealthily, that we do not know that there are back doors in many of these systems. There are armies of zombie computers called botnets that are computers that run and they act normally, but --
GLENN: What do you mean there's zombie botnet machines?
SUAREZ: Well, basically a botnet is a collection of compromised home computers and commercial computers that have been wrangled by nefarious criminal gangs basically, people who can remotely control these machines through malware that has been installed on private machines. So they basically create an army that can be martialed to attack commercial infrastructure.
GLENN: So you're saying that my computer at home might be -- might have been wrangled by nefarious people, China, mob, just crazy people, whatever have possibly wrangled my machine or my machine at work?
SUAREZ: That's correct, drafting it into an army of zombie machines. And you would have no idea unless you took extraordinary measures to make sure that this is not the case. I think --
GLENN: Okay. Wait, wait, wait. So how do you mean -- I'm sorry to ask you to break it down but you've got to --
SUAREZ: Not a problem.
GLENN: Speaking to 5-year-old here.
GLENN: How exactly do they get into my machine and how would my machine be doing something nefarious without me knowing it?
SUAREZ: This goes back to the TCP/IP standard that the Internet is based on. This was developed in the 1960s as a system for scientists and government officials to communicate after a thermonuclear war, it is an inherently open system. It was made so that people could easily connect so that it could survive. Now, on top of this we've created a commercial infrastructure for online banking, e-mail, communications, and we've applied security after the fact. Now, this inherently open infrastructure is what's giving us problems. So there are ways into your computer through the Internet and we are constantly trying to secure these holes, but these very sophisticated criminal gangs are always finding new ways in. So even though you're not aware of it, they can create stealthy processes that run in your machine that you can't see.
GLENN: And they are called -- they are little bots that are put into your machine and they --
SUAREZ: Essentially, yes.
GLENN: And so they actually -- so it's not your machine actually doing it. It's your machine doing part of it and reaching out to other machines?
SUAREZ: Correct, and coordinating their activity as a big army. And it's using the processing power on your machine potentially to do harm to others.
SUAREZ: So in other words, let's just create a scenario here.
GLENN: Let's say China wants to take down the United States banking system and just erase or jam the banking systems up so there's just nothing that can be -- you know, all the 1s and 0s that are in my bank account go away. If they wanted to do that, they wouldn't necessarily, it wouldn't be from one computer. They could just awaken all of the little bots in, you know, your laptop, my desktop and it would become a giant supercomputer that could then accomplish this?
SUAREZ: That's exactly correct. It would then become a big distributed army that could issue millions of packets that could clog the system. But it doesn't even have to be a nation state like China. It could be a small criminal gang of sophisticated people who could do this.
GLENN: Do you remember the -- they went in and they shut down a computer, some place in California, and they thought it was just spamming but when they turned that one computer off, the world spam went down by like 80%? Do you remember this?
SUAREZ: Yeah. Actually it might have been a command and control console for a big botnet.
GLENN: That's what they said that it was. Yeah, that's what they said that it was, that everything had to go through that one computer but they had no idea it was just in some back room, I think something like Santa Monica, California or something. And it was just telling these bots exactly what to do. Hang on just a second. I want to come back and ask you, so how do I know if my, if my computer is working for the commies! Coming up in just a second.
GLENN: 888-727-BECK, 888-727-BECK. The name of the book is Daemon, and this is one of the most incredible endorsements I've ever seen from Bill O'Brien, director of cyber security at the White House: Greatest techno thriller, period. Suarez presents a fascinating account of autonomous, logic-based terrorism, incorporating current and anticipated technologies to create a credible and quite clever story. Experts have long feared the Internet doomsday scenario; the Daemon is arguably more terrifying. Holy cow.
So Daniel, you are saying and in your story -- well, outline the story real quick for me.
SUAREZ: Okay. It is a story about a highly successful online game designer who creates a program that monitors the Web for the appearance of his own obituary. And when he dies, the program detects his obituary in online news and activates, begins a cascade of programs that begin to tear apart the fabric of the modern world.
GLENN: And why did he do this? Just for kicks?
SUAREZ: Well, this is definitely a cautionary tale and it is not my purpose to stoke fear but to make people aware of just how fragile modern civilization is. It's the reason I wrote it. I think people need to be aware of it. Now, it can be anyone doing it for any reason and I think it's not a good way to design a society, that it's so vulnerable. So that's why I wrote this.
GLENN: I tell you, I have -- I feel we are more fragile today than we were on 9/11. I just think with everything that is going on, the body blows that everything has taken over the last seven, eight years that people don't realize how fragile the world really is. I mean, it really is "Handle with care" society.
SUAREZ: Yeah, it's a highly efficient machine and any precision machine is fragile.
GLENN: So is there a way -- let's say cyber attacks started. Is there a way or something that everybody should do to, I mean, do you just turn your computer off?
SUAREZ: Well, you know, if a cyber attack started, that would be a good start, although there's so many machines in the world, it probably wouldn't eliminate it but it would certainly reduce its virulence, its intensity. And that's one thing I'd like people to take away is there is no such thing as an unimportant computer. A lot of people I talk to say, "Well, I don't have anything on that computer that I care about" and so they don't patch it, they don't keep track of it. But if it's connected to the Internet, it can do harm to others. So it's always something to be aware of.
GLENN: I had no idea that this was even possible. So what is the -- can you have, like, spyware stuff put on that cancels this out?
SUAREZ: Absolutely, absolutely. You always update your antivirus. The truth is the sophistication of these criminal gangs is such that there will be things that can get through if you are not careful. So I always tell people if you are surfing the Internet, don't surf the Internet on a machine with your admin account; that is, the system administrator privileges, which is the default. Instead create -- and every operating system allows you to do this and it's fairly easy to do. Create a lower privilege account so that when you surf the net, if you run into any malware or malicious program, it can't install itself. It doesn't have the rights. And that will really protect you quite a ways. It's kind of like the real world in the sense you can never fully protect yourself but you can take some simple steps.
GLENN: So wait. You don't have to download stuff, this stuff, it just comes to you?
SUAREZ: It installs itself, yeah.
GLENN: Holy cow.
SUAREZ: A drive-by install.
GLENN: What is the name of the book? I was reading all the stuff before I went on the air today and I just think this is, this is the kind of book I want to read. When is it out? Is it already out?
SUAREZ: It's already out. It should be in every bookstore and we're very pleased and I'm glad it's getting a good response.
GLENN: Okay, good. The name of the book it Daemon, and it's available everywhere. Everybody I know is raving about this book. Daniel, thanks very much. I appreciate it. We'll talk to you again.
SUAREZ: Thank you, Glenn. Thanks.