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This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers Paperback – September 25, 2013
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Paperback. Pub Date :2013-09-25 Pages: 400 Language: English Publisher: Plume Books Who Are The CypherpunksThis is the unauthorized telling of the revolutionary cryptography story behind the motion picture The Fifth Estate in theatres this October. and We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks. a documentary out now.WikiLeaks brought to light a new form of whistleblowing. using powerful cryptographic code to hide leakers' identities while they spill the private data of government agencies and corporations. But that technology has been evolving for decades in the hands of hackers and radical activists. from the libertarian enclaves of Northern California to Berlin to the Balkans. And the secret-killing machine continues to evolve beyond WikiLeaks. as a movement of hacktivists aims to obliterate the world's institutional secrecy.Forbes journalist Andy Greenberg has traced its s...
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First of all, let me just say that this is an excellent read. It moves along quickly, like a novel, and Greenberg discusses many of the basic technological capabilities that were invented directly or inspired by the Cypherpunks. It also gives little character portraits developed mainly by direct interaction Greenberg had with some of the key players. Greenberg describes meetings with John Young, Tim May, Julian Assange and others. And those who subscribed to the Cypherpunks mailing list will recognize the characters he has captured in book form: John Young is a (necessarily) paranoid characters who truly believes in freeing information, particularly information owned by the public. Tim May is a cranky old crank who is nonetheless brilliant and has egged on or conceived of many of the key inventions spawned by Cypherpunk thinking. Julian Assange is the self-proclaimed Cypherpunk messiah who is nevertheless hell-bent on exposing some of the worst abuses of both Governments and large corporations. In my opinion, Greenberg captures some aspects of the people without ignoring their contributions.
Where the book falls short of it's very high potential is in the last couple of chapters. Basically, Greenberg ends up spending a lot of time of the gossipy side of how Wikileaks came apart. While some coverage of this part of recent history is probably merited (and showing how Assange may have partly contributed to Wikileaks' loss of clout), Greenberg should have continued the main anti-authoritarian themes developed in the early chapters and discussed (for instance) BITCOIN. Whether Bitcoin itself survives or not isn't relevant, but Bitcoin emodies many Cypherpunkly ideals, including anonymous cash and a decentralized coining mechanism. As such, it is the first of what will certainly be a series of digital forms of cash. Greenberg should have maintained his focus on the core themes of the Cypherpunks and strong crypto and then looked towards the future and (possibly) discussed which of the themes may continue to proliferate (eg, Collapse of governments due to anonymous crypto payments? Probably unlikely. Forcing nation-states to come to terms with far higher forms of transparency? Increasingly likely.)
In my opinion this book is informative, fun-to-read, and even somewhat important. If Greenberg fixes the descent into Gossip in a second edition, then this book could become of lasting relevance.
As a layman, when it comes to understanding the technology of crypto systems, I found several rather lengthy sections in which the author tried to explain and describe the intricacies of those systems difficult to follow without slowing down and carefully analyzing the text. And these section were to me tedious at times.
Nevertheless, I feel I gain quite a bit of understanding about the challenges of keeping one's information secret and devising an unbreakable code.
Overall I found the book essential reading to keep up with what is happening in the online and non-online world. Enough so that I bought a copy for a friend who is taking computing courses in college. I felt he would be vitally interested in the content, given his college emphasis, and that he needs to know that content.
With books of this sort, which are really current history, accounts of "What's going on right now, with details," I always appreciate so conclusions on where all this secrecy verses "national security" tug-of-war is going. What are the implications for the future? And, there is some of that, but I would of liked to have read more along that line.
PS Now that I've finished the book completely, I'm beginning to wonder "How much is true?" "Is it disinformation?" "What is the author's real intention?" "Can I trust it?" "Can I believe it?" "Is the book meant for me to ask myself all these questions?" So, in the end, I can say I liked it. I read it quickly, couldn't get through it fast enough. It was gripping, Compelling. Worth-while reading. But given the subject matter, I have to wonder about all the rest. And so will YOU!
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1. I read it completely from start to end
2. I found it exremely informative