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At Large: the Strange Case of the World's Biggest Internet Invasion Hardcover – January 15, 1997
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Pre-order today
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Perhaps the scariest story of insufficient computer security and cybercrime yet is the true tale of Phantom Dialer. He accessed university and military research centers, banks, even the computers that controlled central California's dams. His actions could have put tens of thousands of lives at risk. And what makes it so frightening is that he was not a criminal or computing genius. He was a curious, persistent, and mentally-challenged young man who never truly understood his own actions. So if he could do that, what might a determined terrorist do? Because, as Charles Mann and David Freedman show, advances in the Internet have been making it easier, not harder, for security crackers to go where they're not wanted. The book reads like a techno-thriller--from the discovery of a small cyberbreak-in to the massive manhunt that tracked him down and the troubled birth of the FBI's computer crime squad--complete with all the humor and poignancies of real human events.
From Library Journal
Freedman, editor of Inc. Technology magazine, and Mann (Noah's Choice, LJ 2/15/95) have collaborated to produce a rather aimless account of a widespread series of related and mostly unpublicized computer-hacking incidents perpetrated by a cracker (computer hacker) known as "Phantomd." Basing their book on numerous personal interviews with network system administrators and "hundreds of megabytes of computer logs" (yawn), the authors presumably wish to convey some sort of "ominous warning about the Internet's fatal flaws." While network administrators worried about system security issues may find these accounts fascinating, average online mavens will find them dull and plodding. The epilog succumbs to preachiness on the topic of computer and network security. More riveting accounts of computer crime can be found in two books from Jonathan Littman, The Fugitive Game (LJ 1/96) and The Watchman (LJ 2/15/97).?Joe Accardi, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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The hacker who became known as "Phantom Dialer," started his two year hacking escapade by reeking havoc on the network at the Portland State University in Oregon in 1991. Once into the Portland State network, his used that site as a stepping stone to networks across the globe.
At around the same time that Phantom Dialer was causing damage, the FBI was starting its computer crime squad. While almost as persistent in catching Phantom Dialer as the Phantom Dialer was anonymous, the dedicated members of the computer crime squad felt that while their efforts were valiant, it was nonetheless just a drop in the water, compared to the thousands of other hackers out there.
After a wire tap where the squad was able to determine who Phantom Dialer was, and where his base location was, the squad decided to raid Phantom Dialer's house, arrest him, and seize his computer equipment.
Once inside the house with a warrant, a rather humorous incident occurred. The squad members went to Phantom Dialer's room and announced "Open up -- FBI!", Phantom Dialer replied "Shut up Steve (his brother), Do you think that I'm going to fall for that trick again?".
Phantom Dialer was arrested and jailed. But due to his mental condition (borderline schizophrenic), prosecutors decided that they would not attempt to indict him since they felt that he could not truly understand the implications of his action. Given that, prosecutors felt that no jury would have convicted him.
At Large is a good starting point for anyone interested in understanding how hackers operate. Written in a clear fashion, using technical jargon only when necessary, At Large makes for some interesting reading.
Accomplishments: Determination really can trump weak technical skills. How else can I describe a young man with apparent physical and mental problems who was able to pluck logins directly from Internet backbones?
Writing style: The writing is fairly ordinary and bland -- that is, the content is the story, not flowery writing. But there is something else here that I found very pleasant. The curiosity and frustration experienced by the technical people hunting the hacker made it into the writing in an exceptional way.
I have not done the book justice here. I would recommend visiting the library and reading the first 20 pages. After that, you'll want to own a copy.
I've read many (okay, most) of the well known books on hackers and hacker culture, and I would put @large in the top three, alongside The Watchman, by Jonathan Littman, and Kingpin, by Kevin Poulsen.
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