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on January 22, 2000
I read this book a while ago, but I was still so impressed by it that as I'm showing a friend of mine the web page here I couldn't help but add a review. My aunt bought me this book for Christmas, and I put it down only once over the course of two days. Masters of Deception paints a wonderfully vivid picture of the hacker culture and Internet security when both were nascent. The book is technically vivid, emotionally engaging, and just plain fascinating.
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on July 7, 2001
I read this after reading Clifford Stoll's Cuckoo's Egg which is a much better book on the same subject matter. Stoll is just a smart and observant graduate student who simply tries to tell his story accurately. The 2 authors of Masters of Deception are apparently professional writers and they spend too much time trying to liven up what is essentially an account of high school and college kids playing on computers. You get the feeling they writing this with a screenplay in mind. The book is filled with cliches, bad metaphors, contrived rhetorical questions: "Destroy people's lives? Make them look like saints? Is this what hackers do?" There is very little interesting technical info and much of what there is is dumbed down and often wrong. The discussion of tymnet in chapter 13 is completely off. They obviously don't understand it. Cuckoo's Egg is much better and even the Littman books are better books on the same topic.
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on May 30, 2001
I'm sorry. I don't know where that title came from. This is one of those books that really sheds some insight into the mind of the phone phreakers and the 'hacker' subculture. Kids, bored, learn everything there is to know about the phone system, social engineering, and various other things.
Because they are young, they do cool sutff with their knowledge, and because the world doesn't have much of a sense of humor, they get into trouble.
A very interesting read about the people who would be Internet Consultants and web designers today, but didn't have the material to work with at the time. Proto-web as it were. If you ever wondered about what the online world looked like before it was the web, read this book. It's great fun.
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on January 12, 2014
Masters of Deception is a description of the "great Hacker wars" between two rival hacker gangs Legion of Doom (LOD) and Masters of Deception (MOD). It sounds impressive, but it was just a couple of teenagers with a lot of knowledge about the phone system that started to annoy each other. Put it in that way, the Great Hacker War doesn't look that great, but the book is still good for understanding the hacker dynamics of the end of the 80s and beginning 90s.

The book is written from the perspective of MOD and starts with the founding of MOD by Phiber Optik, Acid Phreak and Scorpion. They together explore the phone system. Phiber Optik was in the Legion of Doom group, but got kicked out and therefore they started the Masters of Deception hacker group. Though it started out as a joke, they grew quite fast and their hacks became quite sophisticated. Not only that, they were also getting more attention from the Secret Service, especially their pranks done to the LOD members who wanted to quit hacking and start a security company. Eventually... well... I'll leave what eventually happens to the reader.

The book is well written and very easy to read. It took me a couple of days on and off reading. The tone of the book is a bit uncomfortable and strange as the authors do take a strong position for the hackers and view them as teenagers playing pranks with a bit too much knowledge. The book is shallow on technical knowledge however, which is most likely because the authors are professional authors and not professional hackers. I think I would have enjoyed it more with a bit more technical information. That said, I did enjoy the book and I think it describes an important timeframe in hacker history. Decided to go with 4 stars. Recommended if you are interested in hacking history, otherwise better not pick it up.
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on April 14, 2002
This book is essentially a slightly jumbled, chronologically organized log of all the events and occurences that lead to the hacking scandal of the early 1990's and the war between MOD and LOD, two rival hacker groups.
The book begins with an introduction to all these hacker kids, and continues on through all their hacking exploits, life occurences, and various important events leading up to the cyberspace war, and computer law scandal.
The book is cliched in some ways, and attempts to answer the question of what a hacker really is, and what a hacker really does. In the end the book ends up being a bit of a cautionary tale.
None of the boys' deepest feelings or psyches are really explored, and it really seems that if they ever get below the surface to show what they're really thinking, it's very brief. In the end it seems a bit like reading a log of events.
All in all the book is informative, and there are few, if any, technical mistakes (not that there is much technical dialogue to begin with).
I urge you to buy this book, simply to be informed, and if you're up for some light reading on the subject, it's likely you'll enjoy it.
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on June 16, 1998
What could have been a very boring and dry account of the daily affairs of teenager hackers was turned into an insightful and entertaining book with serious social value. The way the story was presented kept every character vital and kept the reader informed on what the overall picture was. The way in which it switched perspective every chapter or so also kept the plot line fresh. It stayed true to the ideals of all involved, although at times it slanted a bias towards the young pranksters, and "Masters of Deception" also succeeded in conveying what hacking is really all about. The summary at the end also provided one hell of a thought to chew on. Actually it gave you several, and that is quite possibly the most redeeming thing about this book. Not only is it a fun read, but it provokes you to think about the social questions surrounding what has become a major issue in the 90s.
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VINE VOICEon April 2, 2005
Review by C. Douglas Baker


By Michelle Slatalla and Joshua Quittner

HarperCollins Publishers, Incorporated

New York, New York

Copyright 1995

225 pages

"They believe in the hacker ethic: Thou shalt not destroy." With this oft repeated refrain, Slatalla and Quittner unfold the exploits of a hacker gang, the self styled Masters of Deception (MOD). Briefly, a group of intelligent kids in the early 1990's, with cheap computers and a lot of time on their hands break into sensitive computer systems all over the country. While most people were asleep, these teens were accessing and learning how a variety of high tech computers controlling telecommunications operate. MOD's most notable intrusions were the telephone company and TRW, the company that keeps data on everyone's credit. Of course, they were not supposed to be there and were technically committing a crime. Their motive was primarily a desire to learn and the bragging rights associated with "hacking" some company's computer system, then sharing its secrets with friends. They were only limited by their imaginations and their ability to find a receptive computer accessible via a modem. The morals of "cyberspace" is: if a computer is vulnerable to penetration, then it is fair game for the hacker. The hacker is actually doing the victim a favor by exposing their weakness (assuming he victim even realizes they have been penetrated). Once the phone company realized it was being "hacked" it did not take the intrusion lightly. After a lengthy investigation that included the phone company, the Secret Service, and the New York City District Attorney's office, among others, the ring leaders were caught. They eventually all pled guilty to their intrusions and even spent time in federal penitentiaries.

Slatalla and Quittner tell a good story, focusing on the lives, thoughts, and motives of the kids in MOD. The authors frequently repeat the hacker ethic juxtaposed to some of MOD's deeds: a crashed computer system, phone and computer harassment of enemies, free long distance phone service, and finally a plan to sell confidential credit information gleaned illegally from TRW. Unfortunately, the authors fail to examine the significance of these actions. It is not the damage these kids did, which some have argued did not warrant the penalties they received, but the questions implicitly raised about the future of electronic crimes. Where do we as a society draw the line between harmless pranks by overzealous teenagers fascinated by sophisticated computer systems and serious computer crimes that do real financial damage or seriously breech the privacy of citizens? In an era where computer systems control more and more of our daily lives, this question becomes paramount. It is naive, at best, to believe that all hackers are out only to learn and to play harmless games of one-upmanship with large companies and other hackers. While the authors frequently allude to this important question they never even attempt to answer it.
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on January 14, 1999
If you have ever walked into a computer store and you see a bunch of kids hanging around talking it's likely you have no idea what they are saying because they are using terminology that many don't know. This book teaches you some of that terminology and has a great story along with it. It also teaches you a lot more stuff about computers, but you have to read closely to pick up on it.
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on December 31, 1998
If you have a passing interest in computers this book will solidify it. If you have no interest in computers this book will spur some one. Well written, and informative. It gives you what you need to know about computers without overburdening the reader with details. Fast paced, yet wonderfully crafted. An excellent story in and of itself and only more excellent because its true.
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on September 14, 2014
Well written with good access. Like most of this genre occasionally hard to keep track of the large cast of characters but informative on the events and motivations of MOD and their adversaries on the cusp of the internet revolution.
This is bookend with Underground about the Australian hacker group The Realm and book on CCC .
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