APPROACHING ZERO by Paul Mungo

APPROACHING ZERO

The Extraordinary Underworld of Hackers, Phreakers, Virus Writers, and Keyboard Criminals
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Disjointed survey of computer crime that sensationalizes some aspects while--seemingly whenever another journalist has been there first--downplaying others. Lacking both the focus and genuine perspective of Bruce Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown (p. 1049) and the imagination and scientific vision of Steven Levy's Artificial Life (p. 517)--each of which covered a big chunk of what's discussed here--Mungo (a free-lance journalist) and Clough (an accountant specializing in international computer security) offer instead a mÇlange of tabloid journalism, oft-repeated rumors, and vague hints of cataclysm to come (``In Bangkok, for example, one programmer set up his computer to produce six hundred viruses an hour, each guaranteed undetectable...''). There's information here of real interest: Accounts of hacking in England and virus-writing in Bulgaria will be new to most American readers, and the obscure early history of ``phreaking''--stealing service from Ma Bell--should be required reading in the information age. But the authors' palpable disdain for almost everyone they write about leaves an unpleasant aftertaste, and the broad liberties they take to flesh out and hype their stories make for a flabby narrative (in relating the AT&T service failure of 1990, whose cause is long known to have been a software glitch, they cite anonymous sources suggesting a hacker attack, and ominously intone that ``there is absolutely no proof it was a computer bomb...''). Some new information of interest to computer buffs, but much old news, too, that's been better told by others.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-679-40938-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 1992