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The shocking untold story of the elite secret society of hackers fighting to protect our privacy, our freedom -- even democracy itself Cult of the Dead Cow is the tale of the oldest, most respected, and most famous American hacking group of all time. Though until now it has remained mostly anonymous, its members invented the concept of hacktivism, released the top tool The shocking untold story of the elite secret society of hackers fighting to protect our privacy, our freedom -- even democracy itself Cult of the Dead Cow is the tale of the oldest, most respected, and most famous American hacking group of all time. Though until now it has remained mostly anonymous, its members invented the concept of hacktivism, released the top tool for testing password security, and created what was for years the best technique for controlling computers from afar, forcing giant companies to work harder to protect customers. They contributed to the development of Tor, the most important privacy tool on the net, and helped build cyberweapons that advanced US security without injuring anyone. With its origins in the earliest days of the Internet, the cDc is full of oddball characters -- activists, artists, even future politicians. Many of these hackers have become top executives and advisors walking the corridors of power in Washington and Silicon Valley. The most famous is former Texas Congressman and current presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, whose time in the cDc set him up to found a tech business, launch an alternative publication in El Paso, and make long-shot bets on unconventional campaigns. Today, the group and its followers are battling electoral misinformation, making personal data safer, and battling to keep technology a force for good instead of for surveillance and oppression. Cult of the Dead Cow shows how governments, corporations, and criminals came to hold immense power over individuals and how we can fight back against them.


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The shocking untold story of the elite secret society of hackers fighting to protect our privacy, our freedom -- even democracy itself Cult of the Dead Cow is the tale of the oldest, most respected, and most famous American hacking group of all time. Though until now it has remained mostly anonymous, its members invented the concept of hacktivism, released the top tool The shocking untold story of the elite secret society of hackers fighting to protect our privacy, our freedom -- even democracy itself Cult of the Dead Cow is the tale of the oldest, most respected, and most famous American hacking group of all time. Though until now it has remained mostly anonymous, its members invented the concept of hacktivism, released the top tool for testing password security, and created what was for years the best technique for controlling computers from afar, forcing giant companies to work harder to protect customers. They contributed to the development of Tor, the most important privacy tool on the net, and helped build cyberweapons that advanced US security without injuring anyone. With its origins in the earliest days of the Internet, the cDc is full of oddball characters -- activists, artists, even future politicians. Many of these hackers have become top executives and advisors walking the corridors of power in Washington and Silicon Valley. The most famous is former Texas Congressman and current presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, whose time in the cDc set him up to found a tech business, launch an alternative publication in El Paso, and make long-shot bets on unconventional campaigns. Today, the group and its followers are battling electoral misinformation, making personal data safer, and battling to keep technology a force for good instead of for surveillance and oppression. Cult of the Dead Cow shows how governments, corporations, and criminals came to hold immense power over individuals and how we can fight back against them.

30 review for Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    From exposing security issues during the early days of the Internet to quashing modern-day political misinformation, one group of hackers has been through it all: Cult of the Dead Cow. By latching onto their own branch of “hacktivism”, this group has morphed from an eclectic group of enthusiasts to a movement intent on fighting for greater online security. Journalist Joseph Menn has pulled together perhaps the most encompassing looks at one the longest-serving hacker collectives. This in and of i From exposing security issues during the early days of the Internet to quashing modern-day political misinformation, one group of hackers has been through it all: Cult of the Dead Cow. By latching onto their own branch of “hacktivism”, this group has morphed from an eclectic group of enthusiasts to a movement intent on fighting for greater online security. Journalist Joseph Menn has pulled together perhaps the most encompassing looks at one the longest-serving hacker collectives. This in and of itself is a major feat considering the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) remains a highly secretive organization. While some of the members have been open about their experiences, including presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, others have preferred the anonymity an online persona provides (under secure circumstances, of course). So Menn does deserve credit for pulling plenty of materials, including interviews with members, into a compelling, often entertaining, and somewhat perplexing narrative. And what a story. Putting aside the often dubious legality of the cDc’s actions, their story starts with a group of bored teens in Texas during the mid-1980s and propels into a present where several members are professionals, working on cybersecurity— some in the Silicon Valley private sector and others for government entities. The path there is long and complex, but Menn successfully cultivates this story by sliding around tech-heavy jargon and focusing instead on the human idea of maturity— a gradual online process for the cDc. These moments click, from the Black Orifice Microsoft debacle in the ‘90s to frustrations with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election, the group showcases obvious growth and an enriched viewpoint. With such a solid throughline, ultimately, Menn has crafted an interesting examination of how hacking has progressed in its use for good.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Eric_W

    ​ Cult of the Dead Cow is the facetious name of an early group of hackers (white hat) that began as a computer bulletin board (BBS). Consisting originally of bored but talented teenagers who enjoyed reverse engineering phone systems and early computer software, they evolved into "hactivists" (hackers with a mission), many of whom went on the become influential and and important members of the establishment. Menn follows the individual careers of cDc members who initially focused on security flaws ​ Cult of the Dead Cow is the facetious name of an early group of hackers (white hat) that began as a computer bulletin board (BBS). Consisting originally of bored but talented teenagers who enjoyed reverse engineering phone systems and early computer software, they evolved into "hactivists" (hackers with a mission), many of whom went on the become influential and and important members of the establishment. Menn follows the individual careers of cDc members who initially focused on security flaws in Windows. They were completely apolitical but then morphed into " human rights activists and internet freedom advocates, eventually becoming security advisers for powerful institutions. ​The hackers all started out delighting in discovering security holes in early Windows software but were dismayed by the reaction of the software giant when these holes were pointed out to them. The reaction was a large ho-hum. suggesting that and if you wanted to have a secure system, "go buy Windows NT. That's an irony since no one "buys" software, you buy a license which immunizes the software developer from accountability and permits them to see access to a product that's defective. Their dismay is illustrated by this anecdote. The cDc had created a program that revealed the flaws in Windows but it was also a tool that could be used for less than savory purposes. They released it free to everyone as open source so others could revise and manipulate it. The establishment wasn't sure what to make of it. The FBI, while trying to discourage its release decided it didn't violate any existing laws. The anti-virus business was not pleased as it also showed how weak their software was, but many security professionals decided it was a necessary evil if for no other reason than to force Microsoft to fix their security holes. “Microsoft is evil because they sell crap.” One of the cDc members took a copy of the program on a CD to a Microsoft higher-up. He said thanks and was about to insert it into his CD-ROM drive when she, horror-stricken, asked if his computer was networked. It was. She then asked if it was sand-boxed (programs loaded were quarantined until proven safe.) No, was the response, to which she, shocked, pointed out to him that he was just about to load a program from someone he didn't know, a self-identified hacker, into a computer that was not sand-boxed and connected to his entire network and therefore completely vulnerable. That was their state of mind. Eventually, major businesses realized how important these hackers were and many moved on to become security professionals. As their prominence grew so did the counterculture environment of the early movement begin to fade and they became more political especially after the Chinese student movement was squashed. They began to create software intended for use by dissidents and other cultural reformers, anyone anti-authoritarian. Under Obama, through Hillary Clinton’s State Department, the hacktivism championed by Brown and the cDc to help with dissident subversion of foreign governments would become American foreign policy, part of a program informally known as “internet in a box.” While generally laudatory, Menn doesn't like all of them. Julian Assange and Jake Applebaum of Wikileaks and the TOR project are not portrayed sympathetically, "draping themselves in morality while serving other causes.” Assange was known for his sexual straying and his current behavior certainly distracts from the more positive aspects of Wikileaks. Menn is also not afraid to criticism the industry proposing that cybersecurity problems today are at least partly the result of terrible business and engineering decisions made decades ago. These decisions caused problems that still exist. Whether the movement of the hacktivists into the world of corporate and individual greed will be able to remedy some of those structural problems without becoming part of the problem themselves remains to be seen. ​To some extent it's the old story: countercultural anti-authoritarian types find success and join the corporate elites. How many Vietnam's most vocal protesters went on to become a prominent part of the culture they had so despised? Beto O'Rourke, one of the early cDc members is now running for President and another is security chief for Facebook! How well did that go... Great read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Casper

    Working in computer science and security, I'm always interested to hear some of the history that built up the industry I'm involved in. I was provided a copy of Cult of the Dead Cow by Joseph Menn by NetGalley and Perseus Books for review. The book is a really great deep dive history of the hacker collected Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) which has recently come back into focus with the presidential campaign of cDc member Beto O'Rourke. The coverage of the foundation and growth of cDc is truly in dept Working in computer science and security, I'm always interested to hear some of the history that built up the industry I'm involved in. I was provided a copy of Cult of the Dead Cow by Joseph Menn by NetGalley and Perseus Books for review. The book is a really great deep dive history of the hacker collected Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) which has recently come back into focus with the presidential campaign of cDc member Beto O'Rourke. The coverage of the foundation and growth of cDc is truly in depth and that may stand as the biggest point in favor and against the book. Names (both actual and of the hacker variety) abound and without your computer on your lap to continuously Google stuff that comes up, it got really challenging to keep track of all the players and their various contributions. The historical context of the group and their involvement in other high profile hacker groups, government agencies and non-profit groups was very interesting but it was a lot to parse. I'd recommend this book to IT/IS and information security experts and anyone with a genuine love for the history of the internet and all it's corresponding parts and pieces. It's a dense read but worthwhile, though definitely not for everyone. I don't think I'd recommend this to a casual reader.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian Gebski

    I was waiting for this book, not because recent career of R. O'Rourke , but because I remember CDC from the ol' good times ;P I've used BO & BO2k and I wanted to learn more about the group. Unfortunately, I didn't. There's very little revealed, clearly the group has kept its integrity & 95% of meaty facts are still kept very private. Contrary to my fears, this is not a panegyric ode to RO'R (which is covered rather briefly, but very positively), but there's almost no content in it :( Author tries I was waiting for this book, not because recent career of R. O'Rourke , but because I remember CDC from the ol' good times ;P I've used BO & BO2k and I wanted to learn more about the group. Unfortunately, I didn't. There's very little revealed, clearly the group has kept its integrity & 95% of meaty facts are still kept very private. Contrary to my fears, this is not a panegyric ode to RO'R (which is covered rather briefly, but very positively), but there's almost no content in it :( Author tries to exploit any thread that he could somehow (indirectly) link to CDC, but it's just annoying - not only because it's just too obvious, but also because he's just very speculative & doesn't bring many facts. Big disappointment, even embarrassment. 1.5-1.7 stars.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Scott Hitchcock

    Disclaimer: I work in tech so this may be more interesting to me but if you want a really good view at how companies have avoided security in lieu of profit this is the history of the internet. Hackers often viewed as evil really spawned a lot of the improved security we are seeing today.

  6. 5 out of 5

    jbs

    CDC has reoriented themselves around kowtowing to the establishment national security apparatus, and has uncritically adopted requisite client worldview. This book is their official coming out party. China: bad. Russia: bad. Assange: bad. Snowden: bad. NSA: good. CIA: Good. Politicians who are bland centrist ciphers like Beto O'rourke: good. They've done this not to "make the world safe for democracy," but to line their pockets with the lucre that comes with peddling the snake oil security produ CDC has reoriented themselves around kowtowing to the establishment national security apparatus, and has uncritically adopted requisite client worldview. This book is their official coming out party. China: bad. Russia: bad. Assange: bad. Snowden: bad. NSA: good. CIA: Good. Politicians who are bland centrist ciphers like Beto O'rourke: good. They've done this not to "make the world safe for democracy," but to line their pockets with the lucre that comes with peddling the snake oil security products that are part and parcel to the industry.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tom Kranz

    Inaccurate, poor pacing, and confused timelines and explanations. Mixed up the l0pht and CDC, glossed over some pretty major events and characters. This isn't an accurate history, it's a story, and not a particular good one. Overall this felt like a weak cash-in/tie-in of Beto O'Rourke's political ambitions. You're much better off reading Bruce Sterling's "The Hacker Crackdown", which is more accurate, has better pacing and explanations, and is an infinitely better read.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Rick Howard

    “The more powerful machines become, the sharper human ethics have to be. If the combination of mindless, profit-seeking algorithms, dedicated geopolitical adversaries, and corrupt US opportunists over the past few years have taught us anything, it is that serious applied thinking is a form of critical infrastructure. The best hackers are masters of applied thinking, and we cannot afford to ignore them. Likewise, they should not ignore us. We need more good in the world. If it can’t be lawful, th “The more powerful machines become, the sharper human ethics have to be. If the combination of mindless, profit-seeking algorithms, dedicated geopolitical adversaries, and corrupt US opportunists over the past few years have taught us anything, it is that serious applied thinking is a form of critical infrastructure. The best hackers are masters of applied thinking, and we cannot afford to ignore them. Likewise, they should not ignore us. We need more good in the world. If it can’t be lawful, then let it be chaotic.” - Cult of the Dead Cow, Joe Menn, 2019 I first became aware of Joe Menn after he published his 2010 book about the early days of cyber crime called “Fatal System Error.” The Cybersecurity Canon Committee nominated it as a Hall of Fame candidate in 2014. But, Joe has been a journalist covering cybersecurity since the Internet was young and for the past eight years has been working for Thomson Reuters. For this book, he chose to explore one of the more infamous hactivists groups from the early internet hacker culture: The Cult of the Dead Cow or cDc. At first glance, “”Cult of the Dead Cow,” the book, is a remembrance of a fascinating time in cybersecurity history, early 1980s to mid-2000s, when the world transitioned from dial-up modems to the beginnings of what the internet is today, when the term “hacker” identified clever people who were interested in how the world works, and when Gen Xers were old enough to understand what their baby boomer parents did in the 1960s and were eager to see what they could do in the exponentially expanding digital age. If that was all the book was, it would be a worthwhile read. But Joe has something bigger in mind. From his point of view, Joe has noticed a missing element in “Big Tech” thinking as companies like Google and Facebook have grown to dominate the world’s culture. He believes that the leadership in these companies don’t consider even basic ethics when they make decisions to drive the growth of their companies. He hopes that by describing the maturity journey of the cDc, from internet pranksters to seasoned and respected graybeards, that these new millennials, born between early 2000s and present day, and now in charge of “Big Tech” might use that journey as a blueprint to guide them in the future. The cDc is probably most well known for orchestrating two big hacker moments: the development and marketing of a powerful hacking tool called Back Orifice and running probably the first hactivist campaign centered around a fictitious Chinese hacker group called the Hong Kong Blondes. In fact, cDc member Misha Kubecka (Omega) invented the term “hactivism.” But the book also covers many of the not-so-well known activities of the cDC membership. Many of these stories show how the cDc was trying to bring good into the world, but Joe doesn’t shy away from the cDc dark side either. There are lessons to be learned from both sides. The last sentence in the quote above refers to the role playing game called Dungeons and Dragons and a character alignment system that shows where any particular game character sits on a two-dimensional scale of morality. The Y-Axis moves from Good to Neutral to Evil. The X-Axis moves from Lawful to Neutral to Chaotic. The alignment of any one character falls within the spectrum of that two-dimensional grid. For example, Captain America is the perfect example of Lawful Good while the Joker is the perfect example of Chaotic Evil. In the book, Menn weaves stories about cDc members that fill the entire space of character alignment. He chronicles their actions that dance back and forth between lawful and chaotic, but for the most part, moral. But he does not shy away from the evil parts either. He points to some of these first generation hactivists as the example that he would like the new millennials to emulate. In other words, to make positive change in this digital world, endeavor to stay lawful but consider that sometimes you have to move to the chaotic side. It is an interesting idea and something that the leaders in “Big Tech” should at least consider. And for that, I recommend this book for the Cybersecurity Canon Hall of Fame. Sources "Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World,” by Joseph Mean, Book Review by Rick Howard, Published by PublicAffairs, 4 June 2019, Last Visited 8 June 2019, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4... "Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Down the Internet,” by Joseph Menn, Published by PublicAffairs, 26 January 2010, Last Visited 8 June 2019, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7... "The Cybersecurity Canon: Fatal System Error,” by Rick Howard, The Cybersecurity Canon Project, 20 February 2014, , Last Visited 8 June 2019, https://blog.paloaltonetworks.com/201...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mona

    This is not a book for everyone.  The topic is very interesting and author is more then capable to write about it but this is incredibly dense book. I am a big non fiction fan. The facts and good research are very important to me, but here I had a feeling as if I was reading a collection of bullet points in PowerPoint presentation. The amount of information that author complied in just one page without giving a reader moment to digest was overwhelming and made reading a struggle. There was no flo This is not a book for everyone.  The topic is very interesting and author is more then capable to write about it but this is incredibly dense book. I am a big non fiction fan. The facts and good research are very important to me, but here I had a feeling as if I was reading a collection of bullet points in PowerPoint presentation. The amount of information that author complied in just one page without giving a reader moment to digest was overwhelming and made reading a struggle. There was no flow.  I was really interested in a topic (history of the oldest and well known hacker group in the US called CDC) but the form was just too dense for my taste. I command author for a great research though, there was a lot of work put into this book. 

  10. 4 out of 5

    Billy

    A fascinating, in-depth analysis of the social groups of hackers who would go on to shape the field of cybersecurity and influence major tech companies. This book explores the ethical considerations of technology, as well issues of cybersecurity that frequently appear in today's news stories. Above all, it's a gripping and informative read on a field that is often portrayed as too technical for the average person to understand: Joseph Menn has done a fantastic job with the reporting in this book A fascinating, in-depth analysis of the social groups of hackers who would go on to shape the field of cybersecurity and influence major tech companies. This book explores the ethical considerations of technology, as well issues of cybersecurity that frequently appear in today's news stories. Above all, it's a gripping and informative read on a field that is often portrayed as too technical for the average person to understand: Joseph Menn has done a fantastic job with the reporting in this book.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stacy GeekRemixALot

    Hmm ok, so this book has interesting topics, some of it I felt was reported in a pretty dry and straightforward way. Normally I appreciate the non-sensationalist approach, but there were long stretches of this audiobook where I sort of just zoned out and listened, much like I do with informational podcasts, where I just want to hear a voice saying interesting words and not really absorbing much of the info. I am honestly not sure whether I can fault the author or narrator here, because this migh Hmm ok, so this book has interesting topics, some of it I felt was reported in a pretty dry and straightforward way. Normally I appreciate the non-sensationalist approach, but there were long stretches of this audiobook where I sort of just zoned out and listened, much like I do with informational podcasts, where I just want to hear a voice saying interesting words and not really absorbing much of the info. I am honestly not sure whether I can fault the author or narrator here, because this might simply be a case of quarantine brain melt :/ I will say that I don't think this book is bad, just maybe not as engaging in some parts as I would have needed to keep my attention 100% all the way through. I didn't have much knowledge of the source material going in though, I just thought it sounded interesting, so perhaps if this is more up your alley it will be different for you!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    A good introduction (and really the definitive account) of the cDc, one of the more self-referential and entertaining hacker groups of the 90s (technically 1984-now, but seemed at peak in the late 90s). Interesting for a variety of reasons, particularly how accomplished some of their members are -- heads of security, research, etc. for both large enterprises and security companies, DARPA, and a Congressman (and later Senatorial and Presidential candidate). As someone who was never in cDc but was A good introduction (and really the definitive account) of the cDc, one of the more self-referential and entertaining hacker groups of the 90s (technically 1984-now, but seemed at peak in the late 90s). Interesting for a variety of reasons, particularly how accomplished some of their members are -- heads of security, research, etc. for both large enterprises and security companies, DARPA, and a Congressman (and later Senatorial and Presidential candidate). As someone who was never in cDc but was around during a lot of these events (and know many of the members directly), this seems like a very true-to-life book about a weirder-than-life topic.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tadas Talaikis

    "Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for. I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto." Mentor's Last Words "It was a time of moral reckoning. People realized the power that they had." MUCH @STAKE: THE BAND OF HACKERS THAT DEFINED AN ERA "Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for. I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto." Mentor's Last Words "It was a time of moral reckoning. People realized the power that they had." MUCH @STAKE: THE BAND OF HACKERS THAT DEFINED AN ERA

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nick Black

    a serviceable introduction to the major cDc members, and a nice "where are they now?" survey. by the end, you'll know Deth Veggie and Mudge and Dildog and the gang, if you didn't before. i find no fault with Menn's narration of those few events to which i bore witness. one star removed for the nauseating panegyric to noted gun thief Beto O' Rourke which concludes the book. at one point the author seems to blame computer security problems on...capitalism? well, yes, i suppose you've got to have c a serviceable introduction to the major cDc members, and a nice "where are they now?" survey. by the end, you'll know Deth Veggie and Mudge and Dildog and the gang, if you didn't before. i find no fault with Menn's narration of those few events to which i bore witness. one star removed for the nauseating panegyric to noted gun thief Beto O' Rourke which concludes the book. at one point the author seems to blame computer security problems on...capitalism? well, yes, i suppose you've got to have computers to have computer security issues.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Clicky Steve

    I remember Cult of the Dead cow as a mysterious hacker group from when I was a kid growing up in the 90s. I was always curious to know more about them, and so had to read this book. It charts their existence and individual career/personal developments over the years, linking the group in with current technological and political challenges. It is very well researched and filled with detail that tells the story of the members, but in the end I found it to be perhaps a tad too... descriptive, as at I remember Cult of the Dead cow as a mysterious hacker group from when I was a kid growing up in the 90s. I was always curious to know more about them, and so had to read this book. It charts their existence and individual career/personal developments over the years, linking the group in with current technological and political challenges. It is very well researched and filled with detail that tells the story of the members, but in the end I found it to be perhaps a tad too... descriptive, as at times it felt like simply reading a set of facts, as opposed to capturing the real drama and intrigue of that world. I'm not quite sure what I would have expected though.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tom Lawrence

    I found it engaging and interesting discussing the history of the group that I found very interesting when I was first starting my career in technology. Back in the 90's I attended a few 2600 meeting and the Cult of the Dead Cow and the "Back Orifice" tool was a frequent topic. Learning more about the background and the stories behind this group brought back some great memories about the early era of hacking.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    Great history! Some I was there for (early DefCons and CDC launches), most not, but all rung true of that special time and place where we were all learning. Thank you for capturing this slice of awesome, before we forgot.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Space Rogue

    I wrote this long version a year ago after I posted the short version of my review of “Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World” by Joseph Menn receive a fair bit of criticism from some cDc members. I was called a troll, a self righteous prick, an asshole and other choice names. As a result I felt it necessary to detail my many issues with the book. So, here is the long version. Books can be funny things. Anyone can write one. The author can put into it I wrote this long version a year ago after I posted the short version of my review of “Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World” by Joseph Menn receive a fair bit of criticism from some cDc members. I was called a troll, a self righteous prick, an asshole and other choice names. As a result I felt it necessary to detail my many issues with the book. So, here is the long version. Books can be funny things. Anyone can write one. The author can put into it whatever they want, and yet once it is written down into a book the information takes on an authoritative tone. People assume that once it is in a book it must be true, and discrediting something that has been published in a book can become extremely difficult and time consuming. Even with that effort, what was written may become commonly accepted as "fact" or lore. Some books deserve to be held aloft and pointed to as an example of factual correctness. These books are valuable resources. Other books take liberties with the facts, or present alternate truths. This is especially true of books that rely on people’s memories with little corroborating evidence to back it up. Memories fade and events are remembered differently by different people. Worse, storytelling and a "collective memory" can change over time like the classic kid's game "Telephone". In Joseph Menn’s book “Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World”, I remember the events described a bit differently. I feel it is important that the differences between my own personal memory and Menn’s depiction be documented somewhere. Letting the book stand as is without challenge would be a disservice to future researchers. My own memory is not infallible and it too may be inaccurate, but I feel it is important that alternate viewpoints be presented. I have already detailed some of my objections to Menn’s book in a book review posted to my blog. However, the inaccuracies go much deeper and the perceived authoritativeness of Menn’s book seems to be increasing. The actual ground truth of course lies somewhere in the middle. Perhaps I can put my own recollections into a more authoritative book someday, but until then this document will have to suffice. Menn’s overall premise that Cult of the Dead Cow was a ‘Hacking Supergroup’ does not fit with the perception of cDc by non-members at the time. Menn actually mentions this several times in the book such as when he calls the cDc a ‘performance art group’ (page 2), the ‘liberal arts section of the computer underground’ (12), ‘the arts wing of the hacking community’ (21), ‘successor to the Merry Pranksters’ (23), ‘more of a social space’ (25), and ‘they were an enormous inside joke for hackers’ (47). These descriptions do not equal ‘hacking supergroup’ unless you have an extremely liberal definition of the word hacking. Hacker groups such as Legion of Doom (LoD), Masters of Deception (MoD), the 414s and many others who also existed in the same time frame would be a much better fit for the moniker of ‘hacking supergroup’. On page 'xi' just prior to Chapter 1, Menn lists out what he calls ‘The Players’ but conspicuously does not list several members of the cDc itself. While I understand that Menn seems to only want to list the people that he feels are important to his story, he does not make that clear, so the impression is that there were only 2 members of Legion of Doom, only two members of masters of Deception, and that a related group, the cDc Ninja Strike Force only had three members. Menn seems to cherry pick his facts throughout the book, only choosing to include those things that won’t interrupt his narrative despite there being a significant number of other people and events that should be included to help shape and give background to the story he is trying to tell. One of the things I found extremely confusing throughout the book was Menn’s interchanging of labels for the main characters. In some cases he refers to people by last name, in some by first name, and others only by their handle. In some places he does all three in the same sentence (45). This makes trying to keep track of who’s who in the book more difficult than it should be. On page 2, Menn claims that cDc invented the word hactivism, something they have claimed for a long time, and completely ignores research into the origin of that word and instead leaves that small mention as a footnote (215) in the back of the book where it is unlikely to be seen by the casual reader or the audiobook listener. When an author perpetuates a claim that has essentially been debunked, it forces the question about the authors objectivity. The hacker group L0pht Heavy Industries is described on page 3 as "Mudge’s squad", somehow inferring that he was the leader or that The L0pht belonged to Mudge. This inference is done is several places throughout the book. This confusion isn’t limited to Menn either as it appears in other publications as well. Mudge may have seen himself as the leader but the rest of us, or at least I, did not. Perhaps I was being naïve; I definitely considered Mudge our public face, or front man, but definitely not our leader. We had weekly meetings which where run by Brian Oblivion a founding member, and we voted on important topics as a group. The inference that Mudge somehow dictated what the group did and determined its course is inaccurate. This is a side of the story possibly being pushed by Mudge himself, as I am sure his memory of events differs from mine. On page 25, Menn clearly describes what many of us know as Operation SunDevil, the 1990 nationwide US Secret Service crackdown on "illegal computer hacking activities." It involved raids in approximately fifteen different cities and resulted in at least three arrests, the confiscation of computers, and the shutdown of several BBSs. While Menn does mention this event he fails to name it, not even in a footnote, doing a disservice to the reader who may want to further research this event. Menn also contradicts his own title here calling the cDc ‘more of a social space, a refuge for hackers blowing off steam, than a place to plot actual hacks that ran afoul of the law’ (25) which seems to indicate the cDc wasn’t a ‘Hacking Supergroup’ as indicated in the books title by any definition. One of the cDc’s preeminent text files, #200 titled "The cDc #200 Higgledy-Piggledy-Big-Fat-Henacious-Mega-Mackadocious You-Can't-Even-Come-Close-So-Jump-Back-K-B00MIDY-B00MIDY-B00M File", is briefly mentioned on page 32 and yet no mention of DemonSeed Elite (mentioned 10 times in that file). This is a part of the cDc mythology that has seemingly escaped the cDc collective memory itself, and if the file is going to be mentioned at all, and that it included monster trucks... how can you then not also include the name of the monster truck? Especially when the name is as cool as DemonSeed Elite? A reference to an obscure 1977 horror film ‘Demon Seed’ about a self-aware psychotic computer that impregnates a woman with its demon seed. You really can’t write about the cDc without also writing about the L0pht. Four cDc members have connections to the L0pht including two of its founders, Count Zero and White Knight. However, it is important to remember that the two groups were separate distinct entities. Menn does state that there "were important differences between cDc and the L0pht" (41) and then pretty much proceeds to blur the lines between the two organizations. Going so far as to call L0pht the cDc ‘physical base’ (59). Just like you might be a member of your local volunteer fire department but you also happen to work as a police officer does not mean that the fire house is also a police station. The appearance of Deth Veggie on NBC News Dateline (48) is treated as if it went exactly as the cDc planned. It did not. Myself and others at the L0pht told Deth Veggie and the rest in the hacker house they lived in called Messiah Village that appearing on Dateline like this was a bad idea. I personally tried to warn Deth Veggie that no matter what he would not come out looking like a hero or defender of free speech. He either didn’t listen or decided the lure of the national broadcast TV was too strong. Menn describes this as Deth Veggie wanting to "have a broader debate" (49); I saw it as someone blinded by the TV camera lights instead. That Dateline episode is painful to watch, even today, as Deth Veggie just comes off as a punk kid acting irresponsible. At the bottom of page 49, Menn mentions New Hack City, the name of a house shared by a group of Boston hackers, mostly refugees if you will from two other hacker houses, one named Messiah Village and the other Hell House. But Menn fails to mention where the name New Hack City comes from, which was a play on the 1991 movie ‘New Jack City’, which was used as the title for a magazine article in Esquire. Unfortunately I can’t find the source now, but I am sure while interviewing cDc members Menn must have asked where the name came from, especially seeing as how it was so close to ‘New Jack City’. Menn mentions on page 50 that Window Snyder had ‘took off’ from New Hack City but fails to mention who it was she took off with. Menn alludes to this person in several other places in the book but fails to mention that it was GHeap aka Garbage Heap aka Dave Goldsmith. Possibly because Dave doesn’t want to be identified but if that was the case Menn should have said so and not even mentioned his presence. ‘Mudge’s list of aliases ran for ten pages’ (54) this is obviously hyperbole but Menn just lets it sit there on the page with no challenge. He does mention that Mudge ‘does at times exaggerate’ but leaves that as a footnote way in the back of the book. A footnote that will be unread by most readers and not heard at all by audiobook listeners. This seems like an important note that should possibly be in the main text of the book and not relegated to the back pages. This is apparent later on page 57 where Menn mentions that Mudge ‘let people think that he did more hands-on hacking than he did.’ While this is not supposed to be a L0pht book there are a lot of the pages devoted to L0pht. Which is fine but if you are going to take the time to write about a separate organization and devote a considerable number of words to the topic I would think the author would flush out the major parts of the story and not compress significant events into a few words like ‘moving to a bigger space’(55) or ‘newly incorporated’ (56). Menn compresses the entire disclosure debate which has been raging inside infosec circles for decades into a few paragraphs on page 57 and 75. On page 57 Menn mentions a ‘leading security figure’ like it is some big secret, why not just say Marcus Ranum? I also take exception to the fact that Menn calls the 1995 movie Hackers ‘reasonably well researched’ (60). That movie was a farce, a joke, a play on words, and was anything but realistic, calling it ‘reasonably well researched’ indicates that you have absolutely no idea what was actually going on at the time. Or that you were being successfully trolled, again, by your interview subjects who told you it was an accurate depiction. Menn claims that cDc had ‘taken mercy’ (66) on Microsoft by setting the default port of Back Orifice to 31337 which in my memory had nothing to do with Microsoft. Back Orifice had to have an open port, it could have been anything, obviously they were going to choose the 'elite' port. 31337 is often used in ‘leet speak’ to reference the word elite. On page 68 Menn labels Back Orifice as a virus, which is far from accurate in the technical and literal sense. A virus has self replicating code, it can make copies of itself, BO can not. cDc referred to BO as a remote administration tool, they fought against its inclusion in Anti-Virus software. Menn calling it a virus, with all the negative connotations that brings seems, to fly directly in the face of Menn’s underlying thesis and shows his lack of understanding of the subject matter he is writing about. Somehow Menn comes up with a $500,000 figure (73) for the income of L0phtCrack, the L0pht’s password auditing tool. It never made anywhere near that much. Unfortunately Menn never bothered to verify this figure with anyone and after speaking with the people Menn interviewed who might have given him this figure I was able to trace it to one uncorroborated source. The command line version of L0phtCrack was given away for free, if you wanted the GUI you had to pay, and the early version only cost $50 a seat. By version 2.4 that amount had increased to $150. $500K would have been quite a few copies of L0phtCrack. If we were making that kind of dough L0pht probably would not have needed to sell to @Stake later on. I take exception to Menn’s inference on page 77 that I and other members of the L0pht were unclean. The Hong Kong Blondes are finally revealed as the joke they are on page 88 but Menn just brushes by that revelation and continues writing the HKB story as if they are real and actually existed. Considering how much media attention the HKBs received at the time not calling out that the entire story was made up in stronger terms is a disservice to the reader and to history. While the joint statement against the declaration of war by the Legions of Underground is mentioned, it is credited as being the brain child of cDc. Being the editor of the Hacker News Network I was directly involved in this event. I sat in on the LoU chat room and captured their logs. It was the Chaos Computer Club that drafted the statement and then sought other groups to sign on. L0pht was particularly reluctant to be a signatory and only after I wrote a passionate email to the rest of the L0pht did they agree. Considering how nicely this incident fits into Menn’s overall narrative of morality and ethics I am surprised that it did not get more coverage in the book, perhaps because it shows cDc as only one group among many who all shared the same morals which would reduce the overall impact of cDc? I don’t know. There is an entire chapter of @Stake, I won’t go through and nitpick everything in this chapter because I honestly don’t understand why it is even in the book. The connection between @Stake and cDc is even weaker than that of L0pht and cDc. Suffice it to say that this chapter in my copy of the book is filled with notes and highlights of inaccuracies. Someone will need to write the story of @Stake, I was only there for a short time so it won’t be me, but it is a story that I hope gets told, accurately, some day. Menn’s portrayal is not it. As for the chapter on Tor and

  19. 4 out of 5

    A.J.

    It was cool to learn about the CDC and their days on top during the NT/XP era. Through Back Orifice they were crucial toward Microsoft getting their stuff together an giving a damn about security. I appreciate their efforts. I could have done without the political bias and Trump-bashing.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David Hixson

    As a history of computer activism this was pretty good. The cDc was not the focus, so much as the through-line onto which the rest of the information was placed, but it worked out pretty well. Nothing revolutionary, and at times it felt Homeric in terms of the listing of names and events, but it worked for the story the author wanted to share.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Patrick DiJusto

    The Cult of the Dead Cow was a hacker group that started in the late 1980s at the height of BBS culture, before the internet went mainstream. Their text files on hacking and pretty much every other topic wer insane, informative, hilarious, and depending on your point of view, dangerous. I was very much into hacking and BBS culture at the same time, and I kept myself at an arm's distance from the CDC, because these guys were scary. It was probably the biggest mistake of my life. Members of The Cult The Cult of the Dead Cow was a hacker group that started in the late 1980s at the height of BBS culture, before the internet went mainstream. Their text files on hacking and pretty much every other topic wer insane, informative, hilarious, and depending on your point of view, dangerous. I was very much into hacking and BBS culture at the same time, and I kept myself at an arm's distance from the CDC, because these guys were scary. It was probably the biggest mistake of my life. Members of The Cult of the Dead Cow went on to become internet entrepreneurs, Hardware entrepreneurs, International criminals, the head of DARPA, and, in the person of Beto O'Rourke (whose hacker name was Psychedelic Overlord), a leading Progressive politician. I guess I should have hung out with them more.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Eric Durant

    4.5. Great historic review of computer and information security from ~1970 through today, centered around the Cult of the Dead Cow with a focus on the actors and their principles. The early parts informed and entertained, and the end covering the last decade or so was outstanding, although the center part was a digressive slog. There are incisive insights and deep reporting here on what led to Beto O'Rourke's rise, Russian government tampering in US elections, and the security and privacy situat 4.5. Great historic review of computer and information security from ~1970 through today, centered around the Cult of the Dead Cow with a focus on the actors and their principles. The early parts informed and entertained, and the end covering the last decade or so was outstanding, although the center part was a digressive slog. There are incisive insights and deep reporting here on what led to Beto O'Rourke's rise, Russian government tampering in US elections, and the security and privacy situation the tech. sector is in today.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ben Rothke

    It’s 2019 and there still has not been a movie made about hackers, that is historically accurate and demonstrative of what hackers truly do. Should someone make 'Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World'into a movie, and stay true to the story, it would make a most compelling, and possibly Oscar nominated movie. Written by investigative reporter Joseph Menn, this is his follow-up to Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Do It’s 2019 and there still has not been a movie made about hackers, that is historically accurate and demonstrative of what hackers truly do. Should someone make 'Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World'into a movie, and stay true to the story, it would make a most compelling, and possibly Oscar nominated movie. Written by investigative reporter Joseph Menn, this is his follow-up to Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Down the Internet, which detailed the cyber gangs who operate on the Internet. When you have a fascinating story and a great storyteller, you know the output is going to be an engaging read, and Menn doesn’t disappoint here. He tells for the first time the full history of the legendary hacking group Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc). Formed in 1984, cDc was the most dominant and perhaps most important hacking group in history. The biggest revelation in the book is that one of the early cDc members was Democratic presidential contender Beto O’Rourke. He was known as Psychedelic Warlord during his cDc tenure. In an interview elsewhere, O’Rourke said that “part of my success was being exposed to people who thought differently and explored how things work”. That observation perfectly encapsulates what cDc was all about. O’Rourke also credited the group with influencing his thinking in a number of ways that he had brought to bear already. Menn details the rise and development of the group. From a software perspective, they created a number of first-generation security hacking tools. Their output included security tools including Back Orifice, BO2k, Whisker and many more. During its early years, the standard response by Microsoft was that vulnerabilities in Windows were theoretical and didn’t have real world consequences. To which the cDc often brought them to their knees with such claims, by showing them how these vulnerabilities were quite possible. When cDc released their Back Orifice tool in 1998, it enabled users to connect with a Microsoft Windows device remotely. While Back Orifice only ran on Windows 95 and 98; BO2k ran on Windows NT, 2000 and XP. In this fascinating read, Menn tells the story of the cDc, and how they were the consummate hacking group. Menn details the group’s development, and both the good times and bad times within the cDc. This included their mission, but also internal strife, kicking out a member for his maleficence, and more. cDc were the original hacktivist group and knew how to use the media to get their message across, most often against Microsoft. At the end of the day, the cDc was trying to make technology safer, and the world a better place. The cDc was also a launching pad for some of the smartest minds in the industry, and from there a number of information security software firms emanated. cDc members included Christien Rioux and Chris Wysopal who founded application security service provider Veracode, Peiter Zatko, better known as Mudge, founder of @stake; and Window Snyder, former CSO at Mozilla, and many others. In the early days of the cDc, their biggest moral issue was abusing long-distance phone calls. As they matured, they quickly became critical thinkers in an era where that skill was in short supply. They evolved and then led the development of internet security, and later went on to forge consensus on the issue of vulnerability disclosure. They showed the security software was an idea whose time had come. Menn details the tension within the group in how they had to deal with these and other issues, which at time caused conflict between the members. The book also tells the story of some of the firms that were spawned from cDc, mainly @stake and Vercode. When trying to get Adobe to deal with the many Flash security issues, Menn quotes Christien Rioux, who echoes the sentiments of many in the information security field when he said “I hate Adobe”. The story of the cDc is in part the story of the internet and internet security itself. Menn has written an engaging book that captures the esprit de corps of the group, the challenges they faced, and the inner workings of one of the most legendary, and productive hacking groups in history.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rogério Vicente

    This book not only has amazing real stories and facts about the famous hacker group, but also lots of food for thought about how hacker groups like cDc, l0pht et al, actually had a vital role in the late 80s and early 90s, forcing giant companies like Microsoft to take security seriously, how security vulnerabilities should be disclosed, should hackers help people living under repressive regimes get access to tools that help them circumvent the controls in place, should governments be allowed to This book not only has amazing real stories and facts about the famous hacker group, but also lots of food for thought about how hacker groups like cDc, l0pht et al, actually had a vital role in the late 80s and early 90s, forcing giant companies like Microsoft to take security seriously, how security vulnerabilities should be disclosed, should hackers help people living under repressive regimes get access to tools that help them circumvent the controls in place, should governments be allowed to have backdoors in worldwide used software, etc. But most of all, this book made me look back and recall the time where the internet was actually a free and magic place to be. With a lot of technical limitations, for sure, but that's probably what made it so genuine. Anyway, I digress. The reason why I only give this book 3 stars, is that Joseph Menn's writing style was hard to follow, using many side steps in sentences instead of going straight to the point. Even with all the amazing info, sometimes it felt like a chore to read this book. Maybe it's the fact that I'm not a native English reader, but most of the books I read are in English. So yes, take my rating with a grain of salt, because writing style aside this book is definitely worth reading.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dan Stern

    Pretty entertaining and interesting background on a political figure. Could have gone more in depth in some areas.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rodney

    Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC), which originated in Lubbock, Texas during the late '80s, is one of the most influential hacker groups in the world. Long before the internet was accessible to most people, CDC, numerous other groups, and people were chatting and trading information, including completely dubious how-to files and illegal software, on computer bulletin board systems. The bulletin boards were pure anarchy and that chaos spilled out into the real world. It was good times. Meen's book tells Cult of the Dead Cow (CDC), which originated in Lubbock, Texas during the late '80s, is one of the most influential hacker groups in the world. Long before the internet was accessible to most people, CDC, numerous other groups, and people were chatting and trading information, including completely dubious how-to files and illegal software, on computer bulletin board systems. The bulletin boards were pure anarchy and that chaos spilled out into the real world. It was good times. Meen's book tells the inside story of CDC and how its members influenced generations of hackers, technologists, outsiders, and even people in the mainstream. The CDC family tree is long, complex, and occasionally mysterious. The tree includes associates and affiliates such as L0pht, @stake, NSA, DARPA, and extremely controversial groups like Wikileaks and Ninja Strike Force. Meen uses original interviews and thorough research to connect all of these disparate pieces into an interesting and engaging history. Beto O'Rourke's involvement in the CDC was a total gift to the author. Even though O'Rourke was a smaller player in the CDC, he provided Joseph Meen with a timely hook to package this story and market it to the public. I doubt that this book about computer hackers who've committed many weird and ethically gray deeds would have gathered as much attention without the O'Rourke hook.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    This book quickly went from a two-star to a four-star investigative reporting. If you're a general reader like me, the first three chapters don't make sense. It was a litany of events and names and don't make sense unless you're already an insider and this is another layer of insider information. The author forgot to include the analysis of why we have to care about these events and numerous people and their handles (a multitude listing of soft drug events and basic juvenile naughtiness)! Let me This book quickly went from a two-star to a four-star investigative reporting. If you're a general reader like me, the first three chapters don't make sense. It was a litany of events and names and don't make sense unless you're already an insider and this is another layer of insider information. The author forgot to include the analysis of why we have to care about these events and numerous people and their handles (a multitude listing of soft drug events and basic juvenile naughtiness)! Let me do the analysis for you. The first three chapters outlines the rise of hacking of outsiders finding their community. So the accounts of revel musicians, artists, poets and writers littered the early CDC community. It helps that a simple tool such as writing txt files require little coding expertise except minimal hacking of dial-up long distance connections and creating BBS (bulletin boards). These are tinkerers and Makers who were isolated and looking for like minded people. The early Online technology paved the way for early sharing of files and ideas. The succeeding chapters up until about six, show an evolution of community composition. You can see the lines moving towards a very educated white male group that were highly aware of the impending control and influence of the internet but we're also coding geniuses that saw the impending doom of insecure infrastructures. This gave the rise of a generation of CDC that were cryptographers and security coders. Exactly what early CDC artist rebel founders saw as an exclusionary principle in the community. This historical juncture includes the growing occurrence of like to like chains of connections that predispose the reproduction of similar player backgrounds coming from elite universities and partly explain the lack of diversity at the top. Even Mudge's wife Sarah merely gets a one liner towards the end eventhough apparently she is a hacker and worked with him on big projects like consumer report for security. However with the explosion of technology evolution by the late 90's to early 2000, the rise and influence of ultra elite hackers would become lords of the programming community. (The diversity field shrinks drastically, whether there are less female hack geniuses than we know remains to be seen if they are structurally eliminated before we know it). If you connect this book with others, say Clive Thompson's Coder and and Mary Gray's and Siddharth Suri's Ghost work, the global programming hierarchy becomes evident. At the top, you will have a handful, here, mainly 2-3 individuals trafficking and correcting the programming errors and bugs of everyone else as an outcome of developing software. (Everyone else category more broadly include some diverse players with minorities playing at the very bottom ring and blue collar code work). This is a common denominator across these books (include the damning report by Nadya Eghbal's called Roads and Bridges about the precarious state of open source software maintenance). The key difference here is that cDc is concerned about security. All this digital infrastructure so weak and unsecured stemming from the time of windows 95 and 98, platforms we all used and up until the mid 2000 a lot of bureaucratic machines are run in this os. After chapter 6, this what makes it interesting, the recent history of events, bad actors and players become relatable to the average Joe. The insider relationship between CDC with wikileaks and how the latter group contributed to the trump campaign. The conversation and the author himself now adds analysis and more context to the moral imperative in security issues. You'll get to read the pathways of defensive and offensive programming behind the NSA, DARPA and the private sectors. Since the elite hackers are such a tiny community of less than 10 or so, these people shift between government, private, and non profit. As the last defenders and beacons of security, these individuals have to move from highly paid work to survive periods of unpaid project work to develop their own ideas and programs that would essentially save the world. This is again common, there's no money in good voluntary work. As such, hackers have to move through different spaces and pathways to sustain themselves financially and emotionally. The stories of mudge and christien roux is one of the more organized chapters that show the different impact in the government (DARPA) and private sector (veracode and hailstone) for thinking and doing security. The latter chapters turn to the significance of the moral imperative in all hacking and security issues. This is where it becomes quite significant. Ultimately, while the author Joseph didn't explicitly discuss it, moral codes are the last bastion and foundation of how security should be done especially with the advent and power of platforms into our lives. This leads to the importance of data rights but also when leaking information becomes detrimental. Out of the CDC community evolved members who became extremists and racists (NSF) and embroiled in sexual assaults (Jake applebaum and Julien assange). The author ties up together separate accounts of snowden and wikileaks and CDC to make sense of a cohesive issue of morality embroiling the security community. I actually read the book because I wanted to know more how beto O'Rourke was involved with CDC. I didn't get much because he was a fringe player at cdc but I got how important his run was for the unknown CDC today. Obviously he dropped so early from the race because despite all the money and free press publicity and grooming he got from pundits, the DNC itself is to blame for lacking any vision (they ignored security recommendations even after the hacking). Personally, he didn't have the overall vision and platform like @AndrewYang to confront the ills of capitalism head-on for the general population. Stick to this book beyond the early hippie chapters and you'll be rewarded with some short oneliners and inside scoop into Facebook, Yahoo and Mueller reports and all sorts of stuff you read from headlines. If the mainstream press doesn't give you the full story, this one, though incoherent at times, ties up some pieces (e.g. did Cambridge analytica misuse Facebook info? Yes and no. Were Russians behind it? Yes and no.) It's one book to understand the evolving complexity of money, politics and digital security. But you would have to do this yourself critically as the author became engrossed in the details and missed the forest for the trees. the trees were the great journalist scoop! The author also suggests great secondary reading and careful of attribution. It's always a good sign. I'll have to move on to the other work by Gabriella Coleman on coding freedom.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Michael Rodyushkin

    This book was like Inception, the message behind it was deep but it was confusing throughout the whole thing. Throughout Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World by Joseph Menn, the author describes the evolution of a hacking group from a group of teenage strangers who are just trying to goof around to a political force that have affected the laws on the internet and privacy today. Furthermore, the author delves into the backstory behind each person in This book was like Inception, the message behind it was deep but it was confusing throughout the whole thing. Throughout Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World by Joseph Menn, the author describes the evolution of a hacking group from a group of teenage strangers who are just trying to goof around to a political force that have affected the laws on the internet and privacy today. Furthermore, the author delves into the backstory behind each person in the group that brought them together, including presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke. The author does a wonderful job portraying the pressing ethical questions that the people discussed in the book had to answer by constantly forcing the reader to think about these issues and explaining in depth the ways different members decided to solve it. Is it justifiable to reveal vulnerabilities in a company's software if the company refuses to fix them? How should censorship be fought in totalitarian countries? These questions and more truly reveal how these computer geeks became the philosophers of our time in the realm of cyberspace. Furthermore, the author spends the majority of the book displaying the overarching impact the decisions of this seemingly minute group had in almost every situation in the 21st century from security at Microsoft to political conflicts in China. Third, this book has opened my eyes to how surprisingly (and worryingly) we have given the internet all of our personal information and data that is susceptible to breaches through the discussion of the discoveries the group made of how vulnerable our information is online. Most surprisingly, the book has demonstrated how easily manipulatable the media was with headline-worthy information that does not have to be true since a group not trained in public relations was able to probe “the press the same way it poked at software” (Menn 62). However, the organization and the amount of information given makes the book confusing at times. There are many people that come into play that the author throws at you and as the book progresses they seem to keep piling on which cause me to have to flip back multiple times throughout my reading to remember who a person is and what have they done so far. It also does not help that the author swaps between the people’s real name and online handle almost nonchalauntly throughout the text. Furthermore, the text seems to balance between a story for people not familiar with the subject and a detailed analysis of the work the group did for computer enthusiasts. At times the author would delve into the kind of work the group was doing but back out before giving too much information. This would leave both types of groups reading this book unsatisfied and force both of them to have to research the subject themselves to fully grasp the book. Nevertheless, it could be argued that the author had no choice and the confusion could not be taken out due to the complex nature of the subject which I can see as a possibility. Overall, the book has a compelling theme and plot that are brought out vividly, but the specific details pertaining to them are hazy which can discourage people who do not wish to commit some time to doing outside research themselves from reading the book entirely.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Elwin Kline

    **WARNING: This book is highly politically charged and written by the author with a very clear political agenda.** This is my first experience with this and I am highly disappointed. This could have been a much better book and would have deserved a much better rating, if the author didn't vomit his political views all over the pages within this book. I first heard about cDc back in the late 90's when I was active on mIRC and really big into online gaming. cDc, myg0t, l0pht were also gamers back th **WARNING: This book is highly politically charged and written by the author with a very clear political agenda.** This is my first experience with this and I am highly disappointed. This could have been a much better book and would have deserved a much better rating, if the author didn't vomit his political views all over the pages within this book. I first heard about cDc back in the late 90's when I was active on mIRC and really big into online gaming. cDc, myg0t, l0pht were also gamers back then and I probably 1v1'd them in mulch_dm for all I know. So when I saw this book available I was super excited to actually learn more about what they were actually doing back then. Me at the time... I was more worried about my upcoming OGL, IGL, GFL, STL matches. If you actually know what any of these acronyms are referring to... you are very familar with the golden age of online gaming and competitive online gaming leagues. Anyway.. back to this cDc book, which I say again, could have been a very enjoyable read if it wasn't so twisted by the authors political opinions. This book is full of drug use glamorization, anti-establishment/anti-authority viewpoints, and totally unsubstantiated and highly opinionated political crap. If your political party aligns with the authors, you're into acid, and you think the government is out to get you ... you will probably love this book. If you are looking for a professional development type book on technology, hacking, and the history of the cDC... I imagine you will feel the same way I did after reading this and feel like you need to go take a shower afterwards. I was tempted to give this 2 stars, but after reading over my review before hitting submit.... yeah, it deserves a 1. Save your self the ~300 pages. Just go to Wikipedia and type in the search box "Cult of the Dead Cow" and you'll be far better off. I highly recommend staying away from this one!

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joel Bastos

    The rise of infosec, hacktivism and internet's first hackers. This book made me reminisce about the time when the internet was not a commodity. So much so, I remember buying a second-hand PCMCIA card with a Prism chipset to ensure I could get kismet/aircrack running and capture some juicy IVs while wardriving with friends (for educational purposes, obviously). The Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) is one of the first hacker groups. A water hole of talent, in its ranks we can find some resounding names as The rise of infosec, hacktivism and internet's first hackers. This book made me reminisce about the time when the internet was not a commodity. So much so, I remember buying a second-hand PCMCIA card with a Prism chipset to ensure I could get kismet/aircrack running and capture some juicy IVs while wardriving with friends (for educational purposes, obviously). The Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) is one of the first hacker groups. A water hole of talent, in its ranks we can find some resounding names as members, like the former Texas congressman and current presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, for example. It comes to no surprise that cDc history intertwines with L0pht, the first hackerspace and birthplace of tools like L0phtCrack, Back Orifice and BO2k (fun times). Both cDc and L0pht helped lay the foundations for things we now take for granted, like the responsible disclosure of vulnerabilities. cDc was also one of the main backers for HoHoCon, a hacking conference which in turn inspired DEF CON and Black Hat. Some historical landmarks of the hacking scene, like Captain Crunch and Phrack magazine, do not go unnoticed in this book. It also describes how hacktivism helps the world become safer online and, consequently, offline and explains how the thriving hacking community has equipped us with tools to ensure free speech and even circumvent toxic regimes, as it's the case of Moxie's (sslstrip + ettercap = ❤) Signal or even Tor. The book shows the good, the bad and the ugly of hacking unapologetically and it exposes sensitive topics like WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, the rise of Anonymous/LulzSec and Edward Snowden. It's a very enlightening read to anyone engaged in these topics back in the day and worth it as a history lesson for those who weren't.

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