2019, Books, Non-Fiction

Sandworm (2019) by Andy Greenberg

This is an alarming look into the world of state-sponsored hacking, notably Russian state-sponsored hacking. It is a quick read – a page-turner – and it feels like a reasonably complete tour of what the Russian government has been up to prior to 2019.

I was moderately familiar with a lot of this due to more than a few Darknet Diaries episodes (which has likely used this book as a source for a number of episodes) but even with that familiarity, I feel like I learned a lot (or at least better retained some of it). Greenberg does a pretty good job of keeping this high-level enough that I think most people will be able to read it without understanding networks hacking basics. (I do think that means that if you are a hacker or network admin yourself, you might find this a little too lay.)

But the real skill, I feel, is just how much of a page-turner this is. I’ve read Greenberg a lot in Wired (and probably read an excerpt from this book at some point in the distant past) and I’ve long thought he was one of the best long-form tech writers I’ve encountered. This book bears that out. Despite knowing at least some of this stuff, I couldn’t put it down.

My biggest criticism is probably how Western/American the focus is. It very much feels like an American journalist talking about nukes in the Cold War. Greenberg acknowledges – and at a few points outright addresses – US complicity and active engagement in all this, but I do feel like he pulls punches a bit. Maybe I’m not being fair. He does acknowledge the NSA’s role, and he does acknowledge that US strategy is helping to cause this arms race, I just think he could come down harder on them than he does. The way the book is written, it feels as though Russia is the main culprit. And though they are so far, it really does feel like there could be so much more the US and the West could do to discourage Russia and other countries from pursuing this stuff if they would just try to be better world citizens instead of trying to reserve these tactics for themselves.

But it’s a great read. Highly recommended. And I’m going to go take money out of the bank and stick it under my mattress.


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