of antiquity the NSA desperately
lacks but at the same time deeply
understands mathematics and its
practical application to technology,
particularly network communication and cryptography. He is an ideal
translator and analyst. Computer
scientists often think in terms of
zeroes and ones, but it is refreshing as
a reader to see the world through the
eyes of a technically savvy filter like
Ambrose, particularly when observing the interplay and tension among
science, religion, and government.
Tetraktys reflects a hauntingly
autobiographical mood. I’m sure each
of us has wondered how our lives
would differ if we had made alternative choices along the way. Tetraktys
strikes me as a similar excursion. In
real life, Juels is the chief scientist
and director of RSA Laboratories,
the research arm of a leading security
company, RSA Security, but unlike
his protagonist, Juels really did earn
his Ph.D. from Berkeley in computer
science. However, he also studied classical literature at Oxford University
and Amherst College. The striking
similarity bet ween protagonist and
author adds to the authenticity of
the novel and makes one wonder if
Ambrose Jerusalem is indeed Ari Juels
and if Tetraktys is more memoir than
fiction, albeit in a parallel world.
The most compelling aspect of the
book is its intellectual stimulation and
insightful technological authenticity.
We are exposed to a tide of intriguing
ideas with startling implications for
personal privacy, technical innova-
tion, and national security. Consider
the implications of efficient factoriza-
tion. Especially alarming is that one
of the world’s bedrock encryption
algorithms would or even could fail.
Current and historical communica-
tions would instantly devolve into
plaintext. As an aside, we may experi-
ence these implications firsthand if
quantum computers would become
viable in the not-too-distant future.
(Juels indicated his doubts about the
state of quantum computers, saying
those in an NSA office were “home-
grown-looking apparatus entangled
in wires, paper labels, and sheets of
Mylar.”) Tetraktys suggests many
other novel ideas, most notably data
mining trends in the global psyche by
way of an uptick in prices on eBay or
ubiquitous audio, video, and location
monitoring of people via their tro-
janed cell phones. Another is the geo-
location of users across the Internet.
Traditionally, tracking an attacker
back across a network involves gather-
ing log information from each hop
along the way, sometimes a legally
impossible task if an intermediary
is uncooperative. But Juels suggests
it might be possible to use global
Internet latency “conductivity maps”
to triangulate the position of an
attacker without such knowledge.
little opportunity for much of the
global population compared to the
potentially rich possibilities online.
No book, even this one, is perfect,
of course; the complexity of a bulletproof, intricate storyline creates
a challenging task for any writer.
Several situations in Tetraktys raise
questions about the consistency of
the plot. For instance, why would
the antagonists help total strangers
win a convenience-store lottery as
a public relations stunt? Moreover,
why is NSA so apparently unaware
of Ambrose’s comings and goings?
Such details are few and minor and
ultimately don’t undermine the
plotline’s plausibility and momentum.
Few people besides Juels could
have written such a book, especially
with such authenticity. Playing to
his strengths as scientist, cryptography expert, and classically trained
thinker, he delivers a tale that is
compelling, intellectually stimulating, and destined to resonate with
the technical community.
Gregory Conti ( email@example.com) is an
assistant professor of computer science and Director of West Point’s Cyber
Security Research Center. He is the
author of two non-fiction books: Googling
Security and Security Data Visualization.
The views expressed here are those of
the author and do not reflect the official
policy or position of the United States
Military Academy, the Department of
the Army, the Department of Defense,
or the U.S. Government.