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AT LARGE by David H. Freedman

AT LARGE

The Strange Case of the World's Biggest Internet Invasion

By David H. Freedman (Author) , Charles C. Mann (Author)

Pub Date: July 21st, 1997
ISBN: 0-684-82464-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 A real-life tale of cops vs. hackers, by two technology writers with a flair for turning a complicated crime and investigation into a fast-moving, edge-of-your-seat story. Freedman (Brainmakers, 1994) and Mann (coauthor, Noah's Choice, 1995) tell the tale of a reclusive teenage hacker, alternatively dubbed Phantomd and Infomaster, who hopscotches around the Internet, breaking into systems and generally wreaking havoc online; his ``absurd, dangerous, monomaniacal course'' of trespassing on computer networks causes even his hacker cronies to fear him. With incisive descriptions and prose that's never overburdened by jargon, the authors chronicle the progression of Phantomd's online intrusions from university computers to Intel to top-secret government databases, and the federal investigation that finally nabs him. Unfortunately, the story loses steam at the end, when the FBI inexplicably decides not to have him prosecuted. Still, the book works because of the authors' skill at portraying their characters and building suspense and momentum from online events that are difficult to visualize. The best character, by far, is Phantomd himself, a disabled and massively antisocial youth who is capable of spending days at a time at his computer. As the hacker gets deeper and deeper into trouble, his brother tries futilely to save him, and the book takes on the dimensions of an information-age tragedy. Phantomd's last line, in particular, is heartbreaking, a testament to how the writers deftly recruit the reader's sympathy for the story's antagonist. Finally, the book becomes a portent: The authors make a strong case for the vulnerability of the Internet, describing its ``electronic Maginot lines'' and their inadequacy in the face of patient young invaders with powerful tools. With this extraordinary story and its hard-learned lessons, the authors should make more than a few of their readers wary of staking their privacy on the online world. (First serial to the Atlantic Monthly)