Mark Russinovich is a Microsoft Technical Fellow working on the Azure cloud infrastructure. He has penned two previous novels and a short story featuring the same character, Jeff Aiken. Jeff is a computer consultant and has even managed to save the world more than once.
Cyber thriller, tech thriller, techno thriller, or whatever genre you want to put it in, I would describe the series as a thriller that uses malware and computer security as a central plot device. In Rogue Code, Jeff is consulting for the NYSE Euronext to do a penetration test of the system and improve their security. Wrong time, wrong place or right time, right place – Jeff and his colleague stumble upon a rootkit and a more complicated plot going on beneath the surface.
Michael Lewis’ Flash Boys revealed how high-frequency trading has created a ruthless breed of traders capable of winning whichever way the market turns. In Rogue Code, Mark Russinovich takes it one step further to show how their grip on high finance makes the stock market vulnerable to hackers who could bring about worldwide financial collapse.
Cyber security expert Jeff Aiken knows that no computer system is completely secure. When he’s called to investigate a possible breach at the New York Stock Exchange, he discovers not only that their system has been infiltrated but that someone on the inside knows. Yet for some reason, they have allowed the hackers to steal millions of dollars from accounts without trying to stop the theft.
When Jeff uncovers the crime, the NYSE suddenly turns on him. Accused of grand larceny, he must find and expose the criminals behind the theft, not just to prove his innocence but to stop a multibillion-dollar heist that could upend the U.S. economy. Unwilling to heed Jeff’s warnings, the NYSE plans to continue with a major IPO using a new, untested system, one that might be susceptible both to hackers and to ruthless high-frequency traders willing to take any risk to turn a profit.
Now Jeff Aiken must unearth the truth on his own, following the thread to the back alleys of Rio de Janeiro to take on one of the world’s most ruthless cartels.
Praised for his combination of real-world technology and quick-paced action, with Rogue Code Mark Russinovich delivers an intense thriller about a cyber threat that seems all too possible—and the Wall Street traders who might allow it to happen.
Rogue Code is my least favorite of the series. It felt heavy and uncoordinated. There were long, drawn out, and repeated explanations of malware, rootkits, and high frequency trading. It felt more like a thinly veiled attempt to educate at first versus a thriller novel one might read for fun. It seems the true technical focus could have been on the software development side with multiple versions of code being passed back and forth with development rushing to beat a deadline of a big IPO launch. It wasn’t until I was about two-thirds of the way through the book that it seemed to find the pace from previous books of moving quickly.
While I like the characters and the series, Rogue Code really fell flat for me. I hated the relationship drama at the beginning of the book, the action sub-plot in the second half of the book seemed forced and even laughable, while the ending was quick to wrap up and seemed more focused on being a moral warning to the problems of unregulated high frequency trading in the stock market. There was still a dig at Android (page 284) but it was far more balanced than a previous book that seemed to praise Windows Phone and iPhone with some in-book product placement.
My final complaint about the book was just that it needs a strong editor. There were some points to reign in the exposition but most distracting were a few wrong words/typos/mistakes throughout the book. For an example, see page 336 of the hard cover where it says ‘coach’ instead of ‘couch’. This makes it look like a self-published book and pulled me out of the fictional narrative.
In conclusion, I liked Rogue Code but found its flaws a bit too distracting. It focused on a particular plot device (high frequency trading) and built a story around it. The plot and the characters moved forward and this book moves us to the next one. I’m still excited for the series and think the movie rights could make for decent movies similar to Tom Clancy’s thrillers. If you’ve read the other books in the Jeff Aiken series, you will probably want to read this one just to catch up with the characters but it’s not the best example of the series.