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Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness, and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier Paperback – June 6, 1997
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Here is the compelling true story of the computer underground and the bizarre lives and crimes of an elite group of young Australian hackers who took on the forces of the establishment
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By way of introduction, "Underground" recounts the story of the WANK worm that invaded NASA and the US Department of Energy's systems in October 1989, which was traced back to an unknown source in Australia. Dreyfus introduces us to Melbourne's bulletin board communities, where Australia's most resourceful and daring hackers congregated in the days before commercial internet. Then it is on to the stories of the hackers, through whom we view the camaraderie and rifts within that community, the investigations from which anti-hacking laws were developed, the personalities, struggles with obsession and madness, and nail-biting suspense of the hacking itself.
"Underground" is a page-turner, whether its subjects are evading authorities or staring at their monitors in anticipation of whatever holy grail they seek in cyberspace. There is the saga of Par, an American on the run from the Secret Service for 2 years before he ended up in the grip of an apparently schizophrenic serial killer in Riker's Island. Who said nerds don't see any action? In the UK, Pad and Gandalf served as test cases for the Computer Misuse Act of 1990. In Australia, Phoenix and Electron had their hands in some Citibank debit card numbers, among other things. Mendax and Prime Suspect got into the US Department of Defense's Network Information Center (NIC). And fiercely independent Anthrax got busted too.
Some of these cases took years to get to court. The (former) hackers interviewed for the book seem to have been forthcoming about their personal lives during that time as well as their online adventures. Suelette Dreyfus draws some conclusions about how the law should view "look-see" hacking. Though the old laws may now seem quaint, and hackers with external modums and tiny hard drives are from a bygone era, efforts to curtail online activity couldn't be more current -as one of "Underground"'s alumni has recently demonstrated: Julian Assange was Mendax back in those days.
BBC quote: "He (Julian Assange) then spent three years working with an academic, Suelette Dreyfus, who was researching the emerging, subversive side of the internet, writing a book with her, Underground, that became a bestseller in the computing fraternity.
"Ms Dreyfus described Mr Assange as a "very skilled researcher" who was "quite interested in the concept of ethics, concepts of justice, what governments should and shouldn't do".