Patrick's Rants


Design By Humans

9/26/2009

The Lost Symbol

Filed under: Books,Reviews — site admin @ 10:21 am

My wife pre-ordered The Lost Symbol and it showed up last week. I was slow to get started reading it, but have made it nearly halfway through now. It seems not quite as fast paced as The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons but it’s been a pretty good read so far. The only thing that has tripped me personally has been his description of computer tracing and searching techniques. For this reason, I’m not waiting until I finish the book to write about his insight into the minds of otherwise brilliant minded computer geeks… actually these guys will have to turn in their geek cards. On page 107, our intrepid meta/mega-search guru runs a traceroute command to find the location of a server showing only its IP address.

Trish typed the sequence of commands to ping all the “hops” between her control room’s machine…

Series of commands? Oh Dan. traceroute ibm.com For those impaired with a Windows computer: tracert.exe ibm.com
The next paragraph is rather computerly (is that even a word?) mundane, and then turn to 108 for this “gem”

Her ping, for some reason, had hit a network device that swallowed it rather than bouncing it back. “It looks like my traceroute got blocked,” Trish said. Is that even possible?

Possible? Yes. Trivial even. Turn off ICMP replies at the firewall, or router, or… you get my drift. They go on to discuss running whois, except it’s written ‘who is’, and our computer programmer, Trish, pops over to the web interface for the whois query. Really? The web interface? Turn in your pocket protector too. Right now. You are not a geek. Just skimming chapter one of Hacking Exposed: Network Security Secrets and Solutions, Sixth Edition will show that what they are doing is pretty simple stuff. And although Trish thinks of whois as “lowbrow” it does what the character Kathrine wants, tells you who this IP* number belongs to.

Except not in this case.

In this case, they have to place a phone call to a higher form of computer geek. One who sits home alone on a Sunday watching football while tapping away on his laptop. $2000.00 they offer to pay him to figure out who owns a particular server. Enter the next geek failing,

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

Which means that there is no way they accessed this server across the internet. Period, end of story. I know it’s supposed to add to the mystique of the story. In this case it threw me like a mechanical bull. A protocol that is not publicly released is like a blind person walking an incomplete bridge, there is no way to get across the big gap in the Golden Gate Bridge and there is no way to see across the other side to know where it ends.

Dan Brown, you could have called me to ask about this trivial computer networking stuff. I would have helped you for $1000.00, heck maybe even just lunch.

Despite this partial review, I’m picking the book up again today. I may finish this weekend unless I get a call from Dan. It’s probably too late on this since the book has already been printed and I have been swept much further along than this detour might let you believe.

*I’m sorry non-geeks, this is Internet Protocol.

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