If I had to pick an adjective for this book I would be in doubt between irritating and disappointing. Book publishing is a sort of time machine – first the last book of an author is published, then, if the book is successful, every writing of the author, going back to the youth works, is published. This is a nearly zero risk strategy for the publisher (since it fully harvest top money in a short time), while it is highly risky both for the reader (that can quickly became dissatisfied and lose the trust in the writer) and for the writer himself (that is going to lose his readers and therefore his income).
So what’s wrong with “Digital Fortress” (apart from being retitled into “Crypto” for the Italian translation)?
Most of the book. Let’s start from the beginning, the NSA is one of the American secret services. In this book, Dan imagines that NSA has developed a supercomputer that exploits the massive parallelism of one gazillion of CPUs in order to decrypt any message by brute force.
Then the writer proves his deep ignorance of every the most basic aspect of cryptography. He messes up bits with characters. Then he shows that he hadn’t spent a couple of seconds for looking up what the Caesar cipher is and presents a wrong description. Also he hadn’t a clue about computation complexity and that just adding a bit to a keyword the time needed for a brute force attack doubles.
He hadn’t the palest idea of how computer security works, what network security is.
If you succeed to get through all this jungle of ignorance then the story is that a hacker sends a code that cannot be decrypted by brute force (!!) to NSA to black mail them in order to reveal the existence of the supercomputer to the world (!!).
The hacker dies in the beginning and a civilian (the boyfriend of a cryptologist employed by NSA) is sent to investigate (!!).
Anyway the code is eating up the supercomputer resources because the NSA CTO is willing to break it (!!).
Aside from this technological nonsense, there are the usual Brown strengths and weakness. More of the last since this is an old writing by him (1998!) and for sure his technique has improved with time.
The book is not hooking as the others, has an intriguing rhythm, but it is not a page turner.
About the weakness, as usual characters are not developed, they are flat, doing their brain-work and acting like SWAT agents. Also, as already found, the reader is tricked away from the solution of many puzzles pretending that skilled professionals don’t see the obvious solution.
The plot is always the same. Four books, the same plot, the same main character betrayed by what he/she thought was a friend. So the usual upturn near the end, when the hidden plot is revealed.
Don’t buy it, unless you are doing some research work on this author, don’t read it either.