A small child with an inexplicable ability to factor large numbers threatens the security of the Western world in this political thriller from popular author Baldacci. Although it is nice to see mathematics getting some attention, this plot seems a bit tired to me, and besides there are enough small problems with Baldacci's math to make me wonder whether he knows what he's talking about. Take, for instance, this passage from page 134:
(quoted from Simple Genius)
``Right. Now, the standard public key is typically a very large prime
number hundreds of digits long that would take a hundred million PCs
working in parallel several thousand years to figure out the two
factors. However, while everyone knows the public key number, or at
least your computer does, the only way to read what's being sent is by
unlocking the public key using the two private keys. those keys are
the two prime factors of the public key and only your computer
software knows what they are. To use a simple example, the number
fifty might be the public key and ten and five would be the private
keys. If you know the numbers ten and five you can read the
transmission.''

That's pretty close. However, Baldacci is wrong to describe the public key as being prime. In fact, the public key is not supposed to be prime but should be the product of two prime factors. Furthermore, in the "simple example", there is a problem because ten is not prime. (Take a look at my description of the RSA algorithm if you want to really know how it works.) 