Cyberpunk - outlaws and hackers on the computer frontier

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Cyberpunk is a technique of expressing mysterious ideas about human nature, technology and their combination in the future. The book "Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hacker on the Computer Frontier" is written by Katie Hafner and John Markoff. Katie Hafner has worked for Business Week and John Markoff is a well-known reporter for the New York Times.This book basically tells us about the social outcomes of computer networks and the communities that have grown up around them. The authors tells three stories in this book. Stories of three hackers, first is Kevin Mitnick, who is a phone phreak who plagued computer administrators in South California for many years. It shows his beginnings as a frustrated Ham radio operator and portrays him as a kind of neurotic, sad sack type, not the master computer criminal that he is cast as in later writings. It also talks about his other fellows "outlaws" and the interesting personalities of the early computer hacking revolution. Second hacker described in the book is "Pengo" who is a member of the Chaos computer club. The second section deals with a german hacking gang, durig a period when the berlin wall was still in place and spys were running back and forth.The last hacker this book describes is Robert Morris who is an author of the book "The worm that ate the Internet". Finally, he tells the story of "rtm", or Robert Tappan Morris, son of a NSA executive, who unleashed the first worm on the Internet, way back in 86, before 99% of the populatoin even knew what the Internet was. Each story is told in a separate section of the book, and also provides physical appearance information about the hacker as well as the details of his crimes.

Part one of the book describes the story of Kevin "The dark-side hacker". Kevin's story is a truly scary one. Kevin Mitnick is known as the most well-known hacker of all time, and he himself has written a few books on computer crime. He is the habitual hacker described in this book along with his online activities with phone freaking and social engineering. He is the most sinister hacker among the other hackers described in this book. He uses his skills to deal with the phone lines, credit information, and electronic data of his enemies. We learn about the background of Kevin and his friends in a well-balanced manner as they begin wreaking destruction in the phone company. Kevin learned more about computer systems as the phone company migrated towards computer-based control systems.

Kevin constantly used his social engineering skills to call up operators and get system passwords from them. Kevin established frightening hacking skills on the system many times. The most mind blowing hack by Kevin was his theft of the source code for the VMS operating system, directly off the development VAX Cluster in New Hampshire.Interesting thing about this theft was that DEC security were repeatedly informed of this theft and instead of taking actions against it, they stood idle.DEC security came into action when Brian Reid of the Western Research Laboratory was notified.

Part two of the book describes the story of Pengo as "Pengo and Project Equalizer". Pengo was a member of Germany's Chaos Computer Club. In 1980s, this ideological group of hackers of this club gained some disrepute. For Pengo hacking was mainly logical activity. He got trapped when some of his colleagues began to sell the software and information o communalist intelligence agents.

In this section, Clifford Stoll starts with himself and tells about his own exploits that Cyberpunk starts in Germany and then tells about how this all happened. One of the members of the Chaos computer club named "Markus Hess" was tracked down by Clifford Stoll. But there was a more sophisticated hacker named "Pengo" who was more deeply involved in cracking activities.

Basically a cooperative arrangement was set up with KGB through another member of the Chaos club and through other contacts in East Germany. Everyone thought that they would become rich if they sell their software to Soviets but reality was different. Real software was actually hard to get so the members of Project Equalizer started selling public domain software to the Soviets. The Soviets were technically unsophisticated so that is why they were happy to shell out reasonable amounts of money. Selling software to the Soviets was no ideological struggle but instead the members were trying to finance their own habits. If one member's aim was to buy fancy meals then another member wanted to buy hash etc. Besides that, Pengo's aim was to upgrade his computer equipment to a VAX from a Commodore. Vax was a nice little terminal from which it was easy to base crack activities.

The third part of the book is the story of Robert T.Morris who is the final hacker covered in this book and this section is entitled as "RTM". This section gives detailed information about Robert Tappan Morris and his father, Bob Morris, who was a noted security expert and who worked for Bell Labs during the early days of the internet and he helped to write the password encryption mechanism in UNIX. Robert Tappan Morris started learning about computers in his childhood from his father. He got in trouble when a program he had designed to replicate itself across the net got out of hand due to a design defect and it shutted down computers all across the country. The authors of this book give Morris the most compassionate treatment and therefore, presenting him as a scientist whose computer crimes were the result of a simple mistake.

Hafner and Markoff did a good job of providing sufficient details to keep the computer's knowledge. Throughout this book, Cyberpunk takes a fair and amazingly accurate view. The authors are technically sophisticated and objective that makes Cyberpunk a significant contribution to the field. The book is very interesting and readable however after reading the book it is not clear if the core purpose of this book was related more to journalism or computer ethics. If incase it's related to journalism then the authors should have been more neutral in their reporting of the three hackers. If it's just a social observation of computer ethics then more information about the hacker ethic and how it is being changed over the years was required.