Thursday, January 21, 2010

Digital fortress

One weekend, the NSA’s top cryptographer, Susan Fletcher, gets an urgent call from her boss, Commander Strathmore, to come to work. She arrives to the shocking news that TRANSLTR, the NSA's incredibly fast and infallible code-breaking machine against which even the best computer encryption software is useless, has at long last come face to face with its nemesis. Codenamed the Digital Fortress, it is an unbreakable code created by an ex-NSA cryptographer, Ensei Tankado, who had threatened to make it available for public use if the NSA didn’t make TRANSLTR’s existence known to the general public. As the repercussions of this comprise a deadly threat to the nation’s security, it sends shockwaves through the corridors of the NSA.

Even as Susan scrambles to find Ensei’s secret partner, she is puzzled, angry and scared that Commander Strathmore has inexplicably sent her boyfriend David, an ordinary university professor, on a dangerous mission to Spain to retrieve this unbreakable code’s key. Does the key really exist, and if so, will David ever find it and live to bring it back? It’s a race against time as secrecy, deceit and lies escalate, and Susan finds herself smack dab in the middle of it all. Faced with betrayal and terror, this young woman has to fight for love, life and country.

Once again, this Dan Brown novel emphasizes cryptography and details its origins, uses and various forms, and the subject makes for fascinating reading, if a bit dry. Through the central character of Susan, we come to see how cryptography has evolved in today’s time and also something about the NSA, its functions, capabilities and awesome power. With an ingenious plot whose exciting premise is further bolstered by a rapid pace, lots of suspense, interesting characterizations and a romantic entanglement thrown in for good measure, Digital Fortress is a cutting-edge techno-thriller that compels the readers to wonder how much the government is concealing from the public, and whether big brother is really watching everything everywhere. Dan Brown’s laudable detailed research makes this book so realistic it’s scary. Moreover, it will provoke readers to think and wonder if this loss of privacy and violation of human rights is justified by the number of horrific terrorist plots foiled and lives spared daily -- an interesting dilemma.


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