Technology in books and movies

Posted on February 16th, 2007 in General,Linux System Administration by Brandon

I recently finished reading “Digital Fortress” by Dan Brown. The story was actually pretty good, and I would recommend it to others, but I have got to complain about the technology described in the book.

Essentially, the book is set around the NSA’s supercomputer called TRANSLTR. This machine is described as a multi-billion dollar, multi-million core computer that is used to brute-force encryption keys on encrypted documents. Supposedly this machine can crack most encrypted documents in minutes, and it has been stumped for as long as a couple hours on the most complex jobs.

Now, when the bright minds at the NSA try to decrypt the latest ‘unbreakable’ code with their fancy machine, it just works on it for hours and hours. The only interface that all of the technicians have though, is this ‘run-time monitor’ that says how long it’s been working on the latest code. The main character who supposedly did most of the programming on this machine doesn’t have any better debugging tools available than the single clock? Come on…

Equally annoying is the fact that TRANSLTR also has some built-in access into the NSA’s super-secret database of highly classified information. Therefore when TRANSLTR becomes exploited, its conveniently able to modify the firewall and access controls to the NSA’s secret database. Well, the NSA deserves it if they allow an outside system control like that.

There are a whole bunch of other little things (like the only manual power-off button is six stories beneath ground) that are annoying about this book. But the worst is near the very end where is supposed to be suspenseful. The final code is the ‘prime difference between Hiroshima and Nagasaki’). It takes the main characters (who are supposedly math geniuses) 20 pages to figure out that this is a numeric answer, despite the words ‘prime’ and ‘difference’. And another few pages to figure out that the the difference between 235 and 238 is three. Amazing