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. Today, the group and its followers are 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.
From the beginning, Menn’s book on the story of the Cult of the Dead Cow reads as personally and politically sympathetic to its main characters, who go from young members of the hacker underground to mixing among the elite of the security world in big business. Menn may assume the reader to be equally sympathetic. If that’s the case, I am not its natural audience. To me, someone like Beto is a viscerally off-putting neoliberal-on-a-skateboard ... Beneath the radical language and underground aesthetic is an ideological and political shallowness. Strip away the newness and novelty of the technological tactics and you find the same old machinations of military and capitalist power, which no plucky hacktivist can disrupt without risking their life, freedom and reputation ... this book is not a polemic, nor is it an attempt to theorize its subject...It is primarily a work of storytelling and as that, it stands as an invaluable resource. The tale of this small but influential group is a hugely important piece of the puzzle for anyone who wants to understand the forces shaping the internet age.
The author narrates a fast-paced story about how a little-known movement that could trace its roots to the psychedelic rock of the 1960s...would eventually serve as security advisory for the Pentagon, the cybernetics industry, and geopolitical forces around the globe. Menn introduces many characters who were formerly anonymous or deeply underground, known only by their 'cDc' monikers, the names by which they posted during the days before the World Wide Web, when bulletin boards attracted kindred spirits ... A quick tale of black hats and white hats, with a lot of gray area in between.
...a well-told if sometimes overreaching history ... Menn offers authoritative insights into the organization’s inner workings, drawing on emails from and interviews with cDc members. He also spins an engaging tale about the group’s origins, among several disaffected teenagers in Lubbock, Tex., in the mid-1980s, but occasionally gets bogged down in side-stories...Menn’s book covers almost too much ground for a relatively compact text. He elicits intriguing reflections from the hackers on various topical issues, such as the coopting of the internet by repressive governments, but only skims the surface of cDc’s many endeavors. Despite these drawbacks, Menn’s work does serve as a spirited examination of the art of hacking and how it might be used for good.