Masters of Deception: The Gang That Ruled Cyberspace

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9780060926946: Masters of Deception: The Gang That Ruled Cyberspace

The bestselling account of a band of kids from New York who fought an electronic turf war that ranged across some of the nation's most powerful computer systems. "An immensely fun and -- one cannot emphasize this enough -- accessible history of the first outlaws in cyberspace."-- Glamour

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Review:

On January 15, 1990, the AT&T long-distance phone network crashed. Although it was eventually ruled an accident, the event was a wake-up call to telephone companies and law enforcement agencies everywhere, exposing the fragility of the systems that we all heavily depend on. The feds decided that the time had come to crack down on the handful of computer hackers they had been monitoring for several years in connection with the phone companies. The term "hacker" is about to become a household word, and not in the sense of "great programming."

Set against this backdrop, two rival gangs--The Legion of Doom and The Masters of Deception--are about to go to war. What sounds like a clash of comic-book supervillains is actually a feud between factions of teenagers, fueled by misunderstandings and adolescent testosterone. The events leading up to the conflict and its climax are riveting and fun. The book features great depictions of some of the earliest celebrities of hackerdom, including Acid Phreak and Phiber Optik, as well as tales of their exploits and rivalries. Slatalla and Quittner do a great job of portraying the principals as both the powerful cyberspace masters they want to be and the scared, emotional young men they really are.

There is also a nostalgic attraction at work in Masters of Deception. Anyone who remembers their first Commie 64 or TRS-80 will long for those golden days and be thankful that they were elsewhere when the Secret Service came calling.

From Booklist:

Gurus and "phreaks" tool along the info highway for goals noble and not so noble in Newsday reporters Slatalla and Quittner's story of the teenage East Coast hackers (originally Masters of Disaster, MOD), whose on-line escapades ultimately landed them in jail. The adventures of Mark, Paul, Eli, Allen, John, and Julio--aka Phiber Optik, Scorpion, Acid Phreak, Wing, Corrupt, and Outlaw--were initially local. All but Allen lived in the boroughs of New York City, and they roamed the complex computer networks that controlled New York Telephone, NYNEX, and AT & T; later, they would explore other corporate and government systems. The New York crew had problems with a group called the Legion of Doom (LOD): first, a Texas hacker convinced LOD to throw out Phiber Optik (Mark); later, African American John (aka Corrupt) heard the Texas boys using racist names to refer to him and Julio (Outlaw). MOD and LOD harassed each other; eventually, the middle- and upper-class Texans set up their own security firm and reported MOD's harassment to the FBI. But the patterns LOD betrayed were no surprise: New York Telephone and the Secret Service had known about MOD for years. Finally, in 1992, with Wing as a witness for the prosecution, a federal grand jury voted an 11-count indictment; over the next 12 months, five MOD hackers pleaded guilty to reduced charges, and all spent time in federal penitentaries. Slatalla and Quittner capture the excitement of the hackers' search for knowledge, their sense of mission, their genuine if rather convoluted sense of ethics; the authors also address larger issues, including on-line privacy and the appropriate role of government in cyberspace. A lively who/how/whydunit about real-life computer crime and punishment. Mary Carroll

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