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How Wikileakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World's Information

by Andy Greenberg

Pub Date: Sept. 13th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-525-95320-3
Publisher: Dutton

A wide-ranging look at politically motivated information leaks and the activists behind them.

In late 2010, Forbes technology reporter Greenberg sat down with the notorious Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks. The resulting interview has been viewed nearly 1 million times on the Forbes website and served as a launching pad for Greenberg’s debut book. While the author scatters details of Assange and WikiLeaks throughout the book, Greenberg has larger aims: to catalogue “a revolutionary protest movement bent not on stealing information, but on building a tool that inexorably coaxes it out, a technology that slips inside of institutions and levels their defenses like a Trojan horse of cryptographic software and silicon.” With this in mind, the author examines the lives and work of numerous cryptographers, hackers and whistleblowers—some well-known (e.g., Daniel Ellsberg, who first leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times in 1971) and some considerably less so (Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Icelandic activist and member of parliament who is behind a push for greater freedom of information there). However, the book bounces between these often-unrelated biographies so frequently that readers get only a vague sense of each person’s character. A chapter on the hacker group Anonymous, for example, is based in large part on information from a defunct website and is especially hazy; readers will likely find better information in the recently published We Are Anonymous, by Parmy Olson, who, unlike Greenberg, actually interviewed Anonymous members. Overall, the book’s biggest flaw is that its scope is simply too wide. Greenberg valiantly attempts to cover the big picture of information leaks around the globe, but due to the overwhelming cast of characters—as well as some rather dull descriptions of how online cryptography works—the book never fully coalesces.

An ambitious overview that ultimately falls flat.