Reuters cyber security reporter Joseph Menn (Fatal System Error) paints a mostly positive picture of one of the world's greatest hacking groups in Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World. The book doesn't argue that the Cult of the Dead Cow, a secretive and decades-old hacking group with influential members, will save the world. Instead, Menn suggests the bright minds and talented people the group consistently attracts have the capacity to help the cause of human rights in the digital era.
He carefully traces the origins of the group back to the pre-Internet age, when bored and often disaffected teenagers messed around with dial-up bulletin boards, sharing farcical, sometimes subversive material. Later chapters reveal how each founding member of the Cult of the Dead Cow became part of the "hacktivism" movement once the Internet took off in the 1990s. Hackers in the group began targeting mainstream software, finding and alerting companies to vulnerabilities. Their interests eventually branched out into human rights, as many found themselves on the frontlines of cyber war between repressive regimes and democratic activists. Members of the Cult of the Dead Cow went from being on the wrong side of the law to working for intelligence agencies, private security firms and some of the biggest companies in tech, like Facebook.
Menn writes crisply, with the appetite of an investigative journalist. Well researched and smartly written, Cult of the Dead Cow will certainly appeal to technologists and computer enthusiasts but also to the layperson interested in a new and fraught era of cyber geopolitics. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset