Frightening Science Fiction — Or a Cautionary Tale?

(Author’s note: This article first appeared in Amazon’s Kindle Editor’s News)

Unknown terrorists launch a cyber attack of unimaginable proportions on the United States. They take over the nation’s most vital computer systems, shutting down the country’s power grid, but not before the cyber terrorists infiltrate top-secret networks at the Pentagon and White House, along with scores of others. Unprecedented death and destruction follow. These cowards with codes produce a horrifying death toll, take control of the nation’s nuclear arsenal, and place another nuclear bomb in a backpack on a bus full of children headed to New York City. The race is on, with both professionals and everyday citizens risking everything they hold dear to defend themselves and fight this invisible invasion.

Sounds like dystopian science fiction, right? Don’t be so sure.

I’ve spent most of my life in the technology field. My first novel, Terminal Value, was a cyber sleuthing, murder mystery about a start-up mobile computing company and a large information technology services firm about to go public. In recent years, I’ve been involved with cyber security companies, which naturally had me researching and reading a lot about cyber attacks and cyber warfare. What I found was frightening.

The truth is that many of the technologies, cyber attack vulnerabilities, and cyber war scenarios in Lethal Code are based on facts. There are well-documented examples of cyber attacks by China, Russia, North Korea, Israel, the U.S., and other countries. Power, water, fuel, communications, and transportation infrastructure are all vulnerable to disruption. Not only has our federal government admitted that the electric power grid is susceptible to cyber warfare, but even the non-profit North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which oversees all of the interconnected power systems of the contiguous United States, Canada and a portion of Mexico, has issued a public notice that the grid is not adequately protected.

One of the most seminal books I read was Richard Clarke’s non-fiction book, Cyber War (written with Robert Knake). Clarke has served in the White House for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, who appointed him as National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism. Citing numerous examples, the book makes a very convincing case that although the U.S. pioneered the technology behind cyber warfare, our outdated thinking, policies, and strategies make us vulnerable to losing any cyber contest with a hostile nation.

Similarly, Leon Panetta, the former Secretary of Defense and Director of the CIA who oversaw the U.S. military operation that led to Osama bin Laden’s death, said in a speech in 2012 that our current situation has left us open to “an attack that would paralyze and shock the nation…” He then added his most chilling note of all: “Before September 11, 2001, the warning signs were there. We weren’t organized. We weren’t ready and we suffered terribly for that lack of attention. We cannot let that happen again. This is a pre-9/11 moment.”

As much as I want to entertain my readers, it’s important to note that Lethal Code is not just a fast-paced cyber thriller; it is a cautionary tale for a public largely unaware of a potential cyber war of cataclysmic proportions from an unseen enemy.