Posts Tagged ‘CSI’

The Lost Plot

When I was young, my parents had (in my mind) a vast collection of books within my reach. Amongst the Archers, Asimovs and Auels were a full collection of Dick Francis novels that included the 1981 ‘classic’, Twice Shy.

This was, in my mind, notable for the author including lines of a computer program that broke up the flow of the story but were at least intelligible (even if some of his predictions for the computer itself turned out to be quite seriously flawed). I suspect, but do not know, that he asked for and received professional assistance to ensure that no glaring errors crept through.

Fast forward to more recent days. I’ve just finished reading ‘The Lost Symbol’, and am left wondering why Dan Brown cannot follow a similar strategy. His grasp on architecture and history is flaky, but it is possible to at least get technical details correct without altering the story itself. To whit, a small section where a specific webpage is found to contain a collection of searched-for keywords and the URL contains an IP address:

“I can’t unmask the IP” .. “The domain name’s not coming up.”

That’s from a non-technical character, so feasible; but then later, from a typically nerdy über-hacker / security specialist:

“This IP has a funky format. It’s written in a protocol that isn’t even publicly available yet.”

Finally, rather than just do a WHOIS of the IP address to find the owner, the same über-hacker then decides to run what appears to be a complete pentest of the server to find its original owner; this is, of course, after he’s expressed surprise about their traceroute being blocked (here’s a novel idea: maybe the organisation has blocked ICMP?).

I appreciate that, to the vast majority of readers, this would make no more difference than a character in CSI being able to zoom in on a reflection on the back of John Malkovich’s head to read a credit card number; but that would at least advance the plot. The section above could be rewritten to be accurate and still fit the story, and as a bonus not make the specialist’s grasp on actual security laughable to anyone with even a passing interest.

Brown really should stick to what he’s good at: overcomplex plots with inaccurate representations of historical organisations.