Title: The Fox
Author: Frederick Forsyth
Publisher: Corgi Books
Price: Rs 319
Iconic novelist Frederick Forsyth, more than 40 years after the runaway success of his The Day of the Jackal, has returned with a gripping spy thriller.
The book begins with an elite team of Special Forces who quietly move through the night towards their target, a home in a quiet British suburb, which has been identified as the origin of a security breach. They expect to encounter terrorists, fanatics or mercenaries behind the innocent facade, instead, they come across an ordinary family and the reported cyber breach is traced to a makeshift computer in the attic, which is used by the family’s elder son, Luke Jennings, a quiet, autistic teenager who mostly keeps to himself.
Here, the author, to highlight the importance of such cyber attacks, mentions how some databases are so vital that the safety of an entire nation depends upon them remaining safe from such attacks.
The book in a flashback explains that three months ago three American agencies (Pentagon, NSA, and CIA), whose firewalls are the best in the world and are supposed to be virtually impenetrable, were hacked into. Faced with a crisis, the PM calls in his personal adviser on matters concerning national security, Adrian Weston, who had retired from the British Secret Service of which he was once deputy chief.
Now, when it turns out that the brilliant hacker is Luke, a young computer genius, Adrian realises that the boy may face extradition to US and jail. Adrian deliberately uses the fear of Luke’s extradition to US, jail, and a miserable life due to media frenzy, to coerce the boy’s mother in to supporting his brainwave, even though he is aware that in reality, the extradition might not succeed and a crowd-funding appeal might have helped cover the legal bills. Also to stay on good terms with the US, Adrian convinces the American president of a major espionage opportunity.
Adrian accordingly initiates ‘Operation Troy’ whose sole objective is the greatest deception in the history of the cyber world. But, Adrian realises that his plan will not work unless Luke’s mother is given a technical role since her fragile son cannot function without her constant assurances. So Luke, now known as ‘the Fox’, with his computer and his mother are ensconced in a series of British safe houses while the spymaster concocts devilish online attacks on the Russians, Iranians, and North Koreans.
In the first cyber attack, the world’s biggest surface warship powered by nuclear energy, Admiral Nakhimov, is forced to run aground on a sandbank in UK. In the process, Luke has suddenly become the most wanted person in the world as these nations will stop at nothing to kill the Fox and the risk for Adrian and Luke increases with each operation.
The fictional book, to its credit, links the narrative to recent real-life incidents like the one involving American defector and traitor Edward Snowden who, it is believed, flew to Moscow with over one and a half million documents on a memory stick small enough to be inserted before a border check in to the human anus. Years earlier a column of trucks, which could be easily detected would have been needed. Another link is the recent Novichok poisoning case involving former Soviet spy Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
The gripping cyberwar yarn moves at a terrific pace and the spellbinding suspense is retained till the end. So will these three nations, that have run afoul of the brilliant hacker, manage to destroy him and Adrian?