Computer pranksters and the internet come of age together, as the former become the leading security experts on the latter, joining forces with and against corporations and governments alike.
“In its earliest days, the chief moral issues for the teens in the [hacking collective] Cult of the Dead Cow were how badly to abuse long-distance calling cards and how offensive their online posts should be,” writes Reuters technology reporter Menn (Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who Are Bringing Down the Internet, 2010, etc.). “But as they matured, the hackers quickly became critical thinkers in an era when that skill was in short supply….They all helped push a realistic understanding of security challenges and ethical considerations into mainstream conversations in Silicon Valley and Washington.” The author narrates a fast-paced story about how a little-known movement that could trace its roots to the psychedelic rock of the 1960s—one visionary was the son of the Jefferson Airplane’s drummer while another was a lyricist for the Grateful Dead—would eventually serve as security advisory for the Pentagon, the cybernetics industry, and geopolitical forces around the globe. Menn introduces many characters who were formerly anonymous or deeply underground, known only by their “cDc” monikers, the names by which they posted during the days before the World Wide Web, when bulletin boards attracted kindred spirits. The group had its genesis in the remote outpost of Lubbock, Texas, but its influence eventually extended from San Francisco to Boston and beyond, as computer technology triumphed over geographical logistics. They recognized the porousness of the web’s security because they had penetrated it, and they knew that those insisting that information was secure were in denial. They knew that “everything was unsafe and would only get less safe as the economy grew more dependent on technology. This was classic market failure, compounded by political failure.”
A quick tale of black hats and white hats, with a lot of gray area in between.