Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier

Suelette Dreyfus

Random House 1997
A book review by Danny Yee © 1997 https://dannyreviews.com/
The opening chapter of Underground describes the WANK virus that afflicted NASA in 1989. This is the only chapter written from the perspective of administrators and security experts, however. The rest of the book follows the lives and exploits of a number of hackers: Par in the United States, Pad and Gandalf in the United Kingdom, and, in Australia, Force, Electron, Phoenix, Mendax, Prime Suspect, and Anthrax. Dreyfus' dramatised recreation keeps the reader glued to the page as they hack and phreak their way around phone systems, X.25 networks, and the Internet, breaking into systems of all kinds and sparring with administrators, security experts, and law enforcement. All eventually end up in the jaws of the legal system, but none come to real grief.

The technical detail provided is minimal, but there's enough for the cognoscenti to follow what is happening. The odd boo-boo (FTP is not "Fast Transfer Protocol") suggests Dreyfus may not be a technical expert herself, but she has clearly done her research well. She does an excellent job of conveying mood and atmosphere — the total focus of an all night hack session, the nervous energy imbued by an illicit root shell, and even the tedium of much hacking (though this isn't conveyed too realistically!). What is most impressive, however, is the personal detail she has managed to garner about her subjects: more than anything else, it is this is which gives Underground its appeal. The result is a sympathetic portrait of both individual hackers and their way of life. Dreyfus concludes with a suggestion that the skills possessed by hackers are a valuable resource which should be put to better use by society.

July 1997

External links:
- information from Suelette Dreyfus
Related reviews:
- books about the Internet
- books about crime
%T Underground
%S Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier
%A Dreyfus, Suelette
%I Random House
%D 1997
%O paperback, bibliography
%G ISBN 1863305955
%P 475pp