Digital Fortress

Title:                  Digital Fortress

Author:                Dan Brown

Brown, Dale (1998). Digital Fortress. New York: Thomas Dunne Books

LCCN:    2006700040

PS3552.R685434 D54 1998b


Date Updated:  September 11, 2015

In most thrillers, “hardware” consists of big guns, airplanes, military vehicles, and weapons that make things explode. Dan Brown has written a thriller for those of us who like our hardware with disc drives and who rate our heroes by big brainpower rather than big firepower. It’s an Internet user’s spy novel where the good guys and bad guys struggle over secrets somewhat more intellectual than just where the secret formula is hidden – they have to gain understanding of what the secret formula actually is.

In this case, the secret formula is a new means of encryption, capable of changing the balance of international power. Part of the fun is that the book takes the reader along into an understanding of encryption technologies. You’ll find yourself better understanding the political battles over such real-life technologies as the Clipper Chip and PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) software even though the book looks at the issues through the eyes of fiction.

Although there’s enough globehopping in this book for James Bond, the real battleground is cyberspace, because that’s where the “bomb” (or rather, the new encryption algorithm) will explode. Yes, there are a few flaws in the plot if you look too closely, but the cleverness and the sheer fun of it all more than make up for them. There are enough twists and turns to keep you guessing and a lot of high, gee-whiz-level information about encryption, code breaking, and the role they play in international politics. Set aside the whole afternoon and evening for it and have finger food on hand for supper–you may want to read this one straight through.

The National Security Agency (NSA) is one setting for this exciting thriller; the other is Seville, where on page 1 the protagonist, lately dismissed from NSA, drops dead of a supposed heart attack. Though dead, he enjoys a dramaturgical afterlife in the form of his computer program. Digital Fortress creates unbreakable codes, which could render useless NSA’s code-cracking supercomputer called TRANSLTR, but the deceased programmer slyly embossed a decryption key on a ring he wore. Pursuit of this ring is the engine of the plot. NSA cryptology boss Trevor Strathmore dispatches linguist Dave Becker to recover the ring, while he and Becker’s lover, senior code-cracker Susan Fletcher, ponder the vulnerability of TRANSLTR. In Seville, over-the-top chase scenes abound; meanwhile, the critical events unfold at NSA. In a crescendo of murder, infernos, and explosions, it emerges that Strathmore has as agenda that goes beyond breaching Digital Fortress, and Brown’s skill at hinting and concealing Strathmore’s deceit will rivet cyber-minded readers.

In superstar author Dan Brown’s gripping debut, a disgruntled former employee cripples the computer system of the National Security Agency with a seemingly unbreakable algorithmic code. As the computer locks up its circuits trying to decipher the encryption, mathematician Susan Fletcher, the NSA’s resident code expert is called on to expedite the process. Unfortunately, Fletcher soon discovers that, by unlocking the algorithm, the computer will actually expose its precious database to invasion by hackers around the world. When the angry employee who unleashed the code turns up dead, it becomes apparent that larger forces are at work, and the security of the entire nation is at stake. When Dan Brown’s later book, The Da Vinci Code[1], became one of the most lucrative books of all time, Digital Fortress soon joined it on bestseller lists, and spawned some controversy when residents of Seville, Spain objected to Brown’s unflattering descriptions of their city.

[1] Brown, Dan (2004). The Da Vinci Code. New York : Doubleday



Title:                      CyberNation

Author:                  Steve Perry

Perry, Steve (2001). Tom Clancy’s Net Force: CyberNation. New York: Berkley Books

LCCN:    2002553762

PS3553.L245 C9 2001

Date Updated:  March 7, 2017

This series follows Net Force, a division of the FBI set up to deal with net crimes in 2010. CyberNation deals with a group trying to form a nation based completely on the net. Their main goal throughout the book is to get more people to sign up with them, so that they have the numbers to get the attention of current nations. To get people to join, they disrupt the internet, in a not very legal way, and so Net Force is called in. The rest of the book is Net Force trying to catch the hackers doing the disruptions.

In the year 2010, computers are the new superpowers. Those who control them control the world. To enforce the Net Laws, Congress creates the ultimate computer security agency within the FBP the Net Force.

When web service is disrupted across the world, a new nation makes its presence known. Terrorists from a virtual country called CyberNation have taken the web hostage. Their demands: worldwide recognition and rights for their “citizens.” Though there are millions of CyberNation sympathizers, Net Force rallies its troops for an all-out war on three fronts — politically, physically, and electronically — because dealing with terrorists is never an option.

In general this series has a very well thought out description of what needs to be done to protect and police the net. Having said that, I have noticed that the Net Force books have been going downhill, and this one continues that trend. A lot of time is spent on character development, but no development actually comes out of it. For example, we see Jay Gridley question his upcoming marriage. But in the end, the final decision has nothing to do with the pages of inner questioning that he goes through. Then there is the introduction of new ‘toys’ for the military that never show up again. Add to that the fact that every other scene leads to sex, and that there is almost no technology description, this book is only a shadow of Clancy’s work.

To me, this series has become a soap opera, with most of the time spent on generic character development and sex, and very little time spent on the action and descriptions that brought me to Clancy in the first place.