About the Books

Returning to Zero

The second book in the Mick O’Malley Series

The fight for control of the massive Zed.Kicker botnet continues in Returning to Zero, the sequel to the explosive technothriller Counting from Zero that introduced Mick O’Malley and his unlikely hacker friends.


The ultimate weapon of the Internet arms race is the botnet, short for a robot network of compromised computers organized to receive commands over the Internet and operate in concert. Control of a botnet gives the power to threaten individuals, organizations, and even nation states by launching punishing denial of service attack targeting commerce, public safety, and security.

Mick O’Malley is a former security consultant, now hiding out in Australia under an alternative identity. Mick learns startling news about the events that turned his life upside down in Kiev six months previously. As Mick loses control of the botnet, he is drawn into a new global adventure in an attempt to contain the zombie computers that threaten the Internet.

Across four continents, Mick tracks the shadowy exploit writer who now controls the botnet, evading governments and cybercriminals alike. Whom should Mick trust: a compromised intelligence asset, a whistle-blowing government insider, a flighty open source privateer, a returned-from-retirement military operative, or a smuggler on the high seas? Do the cyber defenses of encryption and walls, virtual and physical, provide protection or are they an illusion? Will his risky plan neutralize the botnet for good?

Along the way, Mick finds something more dangerous than the technology, and discovers that not all is what it seems, even within his close circle of friends. Returning to Zero gives a dramatically realistic view of the ongoing struggle to secure today’s Internet from botnets, cyber criminal networks, and malicious nation-state actors.

Counting from Zero

A techno thriller

“Credible and believable, this story is told by a subject matter expert. I could not wait to find out what happened next.”
– Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer

“The threat to the Internet from worms, viruses, botnets, and zombie computers is real, and growing. Counting from Zero is a great way to come up to speed on the alarming state of affairs, and Johnston draws you in with his story and believable cast of characters.”
– Phil Zimmermann, creator of Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) the most widely used email encryption program

Can one man prevent a global Internet Armageddon? At what personal cost?

Counting from ZeroToday, every computer connected to the Internet is under constant attack from viruses, worms, port scans, and spam. Security professionals continually fight to contain newly unleashed cyber attacks, known as zero day attacks, only to have new attacks launched. Millions of computers have already succumbed, and, without their owner’s knowledge, have become slave computers – remotely controlled zombies. Under the control of organized crime and backed by foreign governments, these computers are morphing into collections known in the industry as botnets, short for robot networks.

With today’s Internet-based electronic commerce and banking, and global markets and supply chain management, a worldwide Internet collapse would be catastrophic, likely plunging us into an economic depression. Against this backdrop, the action in Counting from Zero unfolds.

Internet security expert Mick O’Malley is the only one who recognizes the growing threat of the ultimate zero day attack on the Internet from a massive botnet, and his unique hacker skills and network of colleagues enable him to fight back. More cyber prep than cyber punk, Mick uses real-life tools and techniques to encrypt all his communications, and uses these skills to break the encryption used by the botnet. Mick uses encryption on a personal level, too, having multiple passports and multiple names and identities. While crisscrossing the globe in the air, on land, and at sea investigating the threat, Mick becomes the target of attacks on his reputation, his identity, and ultimately his life.

Along the way, Mick meets Kateryna Petrescu, a beautiful Romanian firewall expert. Mick’s attraction to Kateryna develops as they work closely together and share the excitement and danger. Why is the government following Mick and trying to intercept his communications? Can he stop the zero day attack before it is unleashed? What will be the cost to Mick for his single mindedness?

Unfolding across three continents, the new techno thriller Counting from Zero gives a realistic insider’s view of the thrust and parry world of computer security and cryptography, and the very real threat of botnets.

Written by a recognized world expert in Internet communications and security, Counting from Zero is packed with easy-to-understand insights and explanations of how computers and the Internet work, and how you can be safer and more secure online.

Get it now as an eBook on Amazon and as a paperback at Amazon and Barnes & Noble!


  1. #1 by Kyle on February 1, 2013 - 10:15 pm

    Are you planning a second book?

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