Books & Literature

Book Review: There’s a War Going On But No One Can See It, by Huib Modderkolk

NON-FICTION: Based on the cases he investigated over a period of six years, award-winning Dutch journalist Huib Modderkolk takes the reader on a tour of the corridors and back doors of the globalised digital world.

Gripping, intelligent, and vitally important.

Cybersecurity seems, at first glance, fairly dry subject matter. Yes, yes, we think: use two-factor authentication; be wary of catfish; change passwords every month or so; don’t open spam.

But there is so much more to it than that.

Dutch journalist Huib Modderkolk has spent many years investigating major breaches of cybersecurity, and has pulled that research into his book, There’s a War Going On But No One Can See It.

As the title suggests, this isn’t about the odd catfish getting hold of Ms Jones’s life savings (horrific though that is). This is about cyber-warfare. Countries such as China, Russia, USA, and Iran use high-level hacking procedures to get into the systems of other countries, and major corporations. Perhaps the most well-known of these was the now infamous Russian infiltration of the US election. But Modderkolk discusses breaches less famous but perhaps even more frightening, such as that which occurred in 2017. Systems in countries around the world went down, leaving the National Health Service in the UK only able to take in casualty patients, and shutting down the Port of Rotterdam.

Modderkolk is well placed to investigate many of these, as the Netherlands is a significant internet and communications hub. One of the attacks got into DigiNotar, a major provider of digital-notary services (ie, the certification that websites are legitimate) and started spitting out fake certificates. If this all sounds confusing, rest assured, all is explained in a way which is clear to the non-geeks, yet never falls into the annoyingly simplistic.

There’s a War Going On is a gripping work, discussing as it does the new world of espionage and warfare, taking place across the world’s digital highways. Within these pages you will meet characters like Evgeniy Bogachev described as “the Pablo Escobar of the digital age”, Aleksej Gubarev, owner of Webzilla, based (curiously) in Cyprus, and Omar Mohammed Ali, the Somali goat-herd whose two daughters were killed by a drone operated by the US through a base in Djibouti.

Without a hint of sensationalism, Modderkolk manages to present fascinating and somewhat frightening evidence, whilst leaving certain questions open. This is not a comfortable read, but it is an important, vital, and intelligent one.

You will never look at your password the same way again …

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: August 2021
RRP: $29.99

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