Book Review: This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends by Nicole Perlroth

Title: This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends

Author: Nicole Perlroth

Genre: Nonfiction

Subgenre: Science/Technology


Zero day: a software bug that allows a hacker to break into your devices and move around undetected. One of the most coveted tools in a spy’s arsenal, a zero day has the power to silently spy on your iPhone, dismantle the safety controls at a chemical plant, alter an election, and shut down the electric grid (just ask Ukraine).

For decades, under cover of classification levels and non-disclosure agreements, the United States government became the world’s dominant hoarder of zero days. U.S. government agents paid top dollar-first thousands, and later millions of dollars- to hackers willing to sell their lock-picking code and their silence.

Then the United States lost control of its hoard and the market.

Now those zero days are in the hands of hostile nations and mercenaries who do not care if your vote goes missing, your clean water is contaminated, or our nuclear plants melt down.

Filled with spies, hackers, arms dealers, and a few unsung heroes, written like a thriller anda reference, This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends is an astonishing feat of journalism. Based on years of reporting and hundreds of interviews, The New York Times reporter Nicole Perlroth lifts the curtain on a market in shadow, revealing the urgent threat faced by us all if we cannot bring the global cyber arms race to heel.

My Review

Most people are vaguely aware that cybersecurity threats have been a significant problem since the internet became ubiquitous for global commerce and communication. But I’d argue that few people are aware of just how significant those threats are, how much damage they’ve done in recent years, and how much they’ll likely do in years to come.

Largely because a lot of the literature available regarding cybersecurity topics is either steeped in scientific jargon that makes it difficult for lay people to understand, or because the truth of the matter is obscured by articles with doom-and-gloom clickbait titles whose bodies are lacking in substance.

Well, if you’ve been looking for a good resource to learn about the history of the global cybersecurity arms race—or even if you’ve just been mildly interested in learning a bit about how hackers and their lot might threaten you in the imminent future—look no further. In This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends, Nicole Perlroth describes, specifically in lay terms, the in-depth history of cybersecurity. And cyberwarfare.

Covering everything from the Snowden NSA leaks to the Russian cyberattack that brought Ukraine to its knees to Stuxnet and beyond, Perlroth provides a highly detailed look into the ways that private companies, solo hackers, and national governments alike have fueled the development of a competitive cyber arms race over the preceding two decades.

Weaved around a personal narrative about the roadblocks and successes Perlroth encountered while trying to gather the information critical to writing this book—much of it gleamed from government insiders—is a terrifying series of stories about state-sanctioned cyberattacks on enemy nations, cyber infiltration of critical infrastructure systems, and the arrogant refusal of both government entities and private enterprises to focus on cyber-defense instead of offense.

Overall, this book presents a very chilling picture of a globally connected online environment, one that controls everything from healthcare systems to banking, that sits on the verge of all-out cyberwarfare. And if, like many people, most major aspects of your life include some element that relies on the internet, then it would do you well to learn just what sorts of cyber-based dangers are ready and waiting to strike.

This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends is a long haul, for sure—it’s a whopper of a book—but it tells a story, and gives fair warnings, that are vitally important to the average person’s everyday modern life.


Rating: 4 out of 5.