Terms of Use by Scott Allan Morrison: How Safe Is Social Networking?

by Mk

in Authors,Fiction,Men,Mysteries & Thrillers

Terms of UseAs a Silicon Valley technology reporter, Scott Allan Morrison has followed the development of social networking (referred to in this article as social media) and the security issues that surround it in addition to many other timely tech topics. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that he’s chosen to write Terms of Use, a thriller about the vulnerabilities of social media. Having worked for internet companies, I was immediately drawn to this novel because I’ve been in some of those “what do we do to stop this emerging threat to our clients” meetings. It’s a true testament to the tenacity and brilliance of the major Silicon Valley tech companies that Morrison’s scary vision has not occurred (yet), although you may never look at social media the same way again after reading Terms of Use.

Don’t be evil.” Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

The most popular social networking site worldwide is Circles. It’s where everyone hangs out with their friends and talks about the things most important to them as well as exchanging fun pictures and memes. What those Circles users don’t realize is the complexity of the system. And then there’s the staff who don’t just keep that system functioning in top form but who are constantly looking at innovative ways to make it better and ways to protect their users from hackers and scam artists.

Fifty-something-year-old software engineer Sergio Mansour has been with Circles from the beginning, helping to birth this amazing company. Like other old-school top-level people at Circles, he feels very proprietary about the company, even though he now devotes most of his time to research. It’s still his company and he loves it. He’s excited right now because he just perfected a new iris scanning program he knows is going to add a layer of valuable protection to Circles users’ privacy, and he can’t wait until it launches in real time.

“’Yes!’ cried Sergio, as he sprang off of his stool and pumped his fist.
Finally, seven months of complex programming, false starts, and frustrating errors had paid off. He was well on his way to one of the most important achievements of his career – a virtually foolproof user-identification system that would catapult Circles, already the world’s biggest social network, into the stratosphere…
It had been too long since his last eureka moment, that instant when countless lines of artfully woven code clicked for the first time, transforming fanciful notions into amazing new technologies.”

The company has changed a lot since a new hardline executive was brought on board but it’s still the company Sergio gave birth to and loves in many ways. Sergio is determined to keep looking for ways to make it better and maintain the family-like matrix atmosphere in the company despite the new executive’s combative and adversarial way of doing business. Sounds admirable, right? Unfortunately, life is about to throw a huge monkey wrench into Sergio’s plans…right about now.

Security at a social networking site may not be that visible on the surface to its users but it’s at the heart of everything that counts behind the internet curtain. And that security is about to take a huge hit. Circles is preparing to finalize its plans to enter the Chinese market, a huge coup and something it’s had to jump over lots of bureaucratic hurdles to accomplish. There’s a lot of excitement about what this means for the company, even though it has been a huge security nightmare in both preventative measures and in balancing users’ needs vs. Chinese and U.S. government demands.

And then a cyberattack of unprecedented levels suddenly hits Circles like a bomb going off…a social network’s worst nightmare. The Circles security team is accustomed to countering cyberattacks on a daily and sometimes hourly basis, even though those attacks have gotten progressively more sophisticated over the years. But nothing could have prepared them for this one, which is light years beyond anything the system is capable of stopping. And that’s just the beginning. It soon becomes pretty apparent that the only way this attack could have succeeded was if there was a high-level insider involved…an internet company’s worst nightmare.

“A muted ring brought Sergio back to the moment. The landline on his workbench announced an incoming call from George Verneek, the company’s security chief and a close friend. He never uses the phone, Sergio thought, unless…
‘Yeah?’
‘We got one,’ said the familiar voice, ‘And it looks bad. He’s been poking around for at least a month. I could use your help.’…
He had gotten too far ahead of himself; a utopian future free of intruders and cyber-criminals would have to wait. Circles was under attack.”

One of the security team’s most trusted members is murdered and Sergio finds himself labeled a cyber-terrorist. How could anyone think he would attack his own company? In his wildest nightmare, he could never have imagined being on the run from his own company and the government with a price on his head. The only way he can clear his name and save his company is to find the real insider source for the attack and stop that person in their tracks, but can he do that before a killer or the authorities find him?

Terms of Use has a large cast of characters to track; however, the nature of the plot requires that. This is a complex international plot with a lot of players, each with their own agenda. Sergio is a very sympathetic character. Those of us who’ve worked for internet companies know the incredible ownership interest that a lot of employees take in the company’s accomplishments. It is definitely not a place for people who just want “day jobs” but rather for people who are passionate about what they are creating. Sergio is even more than that – Circles was in many ways his creation, his baby, and he loves it beyond measure. No one is going to accuse him of destroying his baby and get away with it, at least not in his mind. That creates a do-or-die dynamic, sometimes literally, and adds even more tension to the storyline. I’m not telling you anything about other characters because of the complexity but also to avoid spoilers. This is Sergio’s story, bottom line.

I was very pleased that Scott Allan Morrison beautifully captured the essence of what it’s like to work in an internet company. It’s quite different from working in most other kinds of companies. That he might not get the culture right was my biggest concern when I decided to read Terms of Use. He’s taken a fear that is inherent in every internet company and run with it big time, and that’s made for one hell of a roller coaster ride.

Obviously there’s creative license taken to make for a thrilling read, so don’t rush out to cancel your social media accounts after reading this story. Real internet companies devote huge resources to protecting user information and they are constantly looking at how to stay many steps ahead of the crooks out there in cyberland. At the same time, you might want to think twice when you decide to divulge private information on your favorite social media site. That’s just common sense. If you’re looking for a nail-biting read that goes behind the internet curtain, I have no problem recommending Terms of Use. Enjoy!

 

Author Book Signings, Discussions & Events
1/24/2016, 4pm-5:30pm         Barnes & Noble – Potomac Yard in the Washington, DC area
1/25/2016, 6:30pm-8:30pm   Private Event in Richmond, VA – contact author for details (he’s on Facebook and Twitter)
1/28/2016, 6:30pm-8:30pm   Private Event in New York City – contact author for details (he’s on Facebook and Twitter)
2/9/2016, 7:30pm-8:30pm     Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, CA

Can’t wait to read it? Terms of Use is available from your favorite online bookseller below in all formats. Just click the link to get it now!

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