Racing to the finish: How cyberwarfare could end everything | Nov. 23-29, 2022

‘This Is How They Tell Me The World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race’ By Nicole Perlroth | 2020 | Hardcover, $30 | Nonfiction, political science | Available at the Seattle Public Library

Nicole Perlroth is a cybersecurity journalist for the New York Times. The title of her 2020 book, “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends,” is intended to make it crystal clear just how dangerous of a situation we are facing. Reading like a fast-paced novel, this is a story you don’t want to ignore: How the evolution of cybercrimes and cyberespionage is leading to cyberwarfare. 

Perlroth begins by telling how, years before the current invasion, Russia cyber-attacked Ukraine repeatedly, shutting down government agencies, railways, ATMs, gas stations and even heat and power in the dead of winter. During a national election, Russian hackers stole campaign emails and voter data, deleted files and implanted malware, severely disrupting the election. This was a proving ground for future Russian attacks elsewhere, including in the United States. 

In telling this story, Perlroth defines key cybercrime terms, such as “zero-days,” which are a software or hardware flaw for which there is no existing patch. “Zero-days are the most critical tool in a hacker’s arsenal,” she writes — and these flaws can go undiscovered for years. Who’s the biggest exploiter of zero-days? The National Security Agency (NSA). Government-sponsored hackers such as the NSA absolutely love zero-days. 

As the biggest culprit of cyberattacks, the NSA has an elite hacking division focused on exploiting technology for use in surveillance. One tactic the agency uses is putting “back doors” into computer chips, which allow unauthorized entry into “nearly every piece of commercial hardware and software on the market.” Perlroth reports that the NSA has attacked almost “every major app, social media platform, server, router, firewall, antivirus software, iPhone, Android phone, BlackBerry phone, laptop, desktop and operating system.” The NSA has hacking tools that let them “break into and spy on devices when they were offline, or even turned off. The agency can skirt most…