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Cult of the Dead Cow The shocking untold story of the elite secret society of hackers fighting to protect our privacy our freedom even democracy itself 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 techniue for controlling computers from afar forcing giant companies to work harder to protect customers They contributed to the development of Tor the most important privacy tool on the net and helped build cyberweapons that advanced US security without injuring anyone With its origins in the earliest days of the Internet the cDc is full of oddball characters activists artists even future politicians Many of these hackers have become top executives and advisors walking the corridors of power in Washington and Silicon Valley The most famous is former Texas Congressman and current presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke whose time in the cDc set him up to found a tech business launch an alternative publication in El Paso and make long shot bets on unconventional campaignsToday the group and its followers are battling electoral misinformation making personal data safer and 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

10 thoughts on “Cult of the Dead Cow

  1. says:

    From exposing security issues during the early days of the Internet to uashing modern day political misinformation one group of hackers has been through it all Cult of the Dead Cow By latching onto their own branch of “hacktivism” this group has morphed from an eclectic group of enthusiasts to a movement intent on fighting for greater online securityJournalist Joseph Menn has pulled together perhaps the most encompassing looks at one the longest serving hacker collectives This in and of itself is a major feat considering the Cult of the Dead Cow cDc remains a highly secretive organization While some of the members have been open about their experiences including presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke others have preferred the anonymity an online persona provides under secure circumstances of course So Menn does deserve credit for pulling plenty of materials including interviews with members into a compelling often entertaining and somewhat perplexing narrativeAnd what a story Putting aside the often dubious legality of the cDc’s actions their story starts with a group of bored teens in Texas during the mid 1980s and propels into a present where several members are professionals working on cybersecurity— some in the Silicon Valley private sector and others for government entities The path there is long and complex but Menn successfully cultivates this story by sliding around tech heavy jargon and focusing instead on the human idea of maturity— a gradual online process for the cDcThese moments click from the Black Orifice Microsoft debacle in the ‘90s to frustrations with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election the group showcases obvious growth and an enriched viewpoint With such a solid throughline ultimately Menn has crafted an interesting examination of how hacking has progressed in its use for good

  2. says:

    ​Cult of the Dead Cow is the facetious name of an early group of hackers white hat that began as a computer bulletin board BBS Consisting originally of bored but talented teenagers who enjoyed reverse engineering phone systems and early computer software they evolved into hactivists hackers with a mission many of whom went on the become influential and and important members of the establishmentMenn follows the individual careers of cDc members who initially focused on security flaws in Windows They were completely apolitical but then morphed into human rights activists and internet freedom advocates eventually becoming security advisers for powerful institutions ​The hackers all started out delighting in discovering security holes in early Windows software but were dismayed by the reaction of the software giant when these holes were pointed out to them The reaction was a large ho hum suggesting that and if you wanted to have a secure system go buy Windows NT That's an irony since no one buys software you buy a license which immunizes the software developer from accountability and permits them to see access to a product that's defective Their dismay is illustrated by this anecdote The cDc had created a program that revealed the flaws in Windows but it was also a tool that could be used for less than savory purposes They released it free to everyone as open source so others could revise and manipulate it The establishment wasn't sure what to make of it The FBI while trying to discourage its release decided it didn't violate any existing laws The anti virus business was not pleased as it also showed how weak their software was but many security professionals decided it was a necessary evil if for no other reason than to force Microsoft to fix their security holes “Microsoft is evil because they sell crap” One of the cDc members took a copy of the program on a CD to a Microsoft higher up He said thanks and was about to insert it into his CD ROM drive when she horror stricken asked if his computer was networked It was She then asked if it was sand boxed programs loaded were uarantined until proven safe No was the response to which she shocked pointed out to him that he was just about to load a program from someone he didn't know a self identified hacker into a computer that was not sand boxed and connected to his entire network and therefore completely vulnerable That was their state of mind Eventually major businesses realized how important these hackers were and many moved on to become security professionals As their prominence grew so did the counterculture environment of the early movement begin to fade and they became political especially after the Chinese student movement was suashed They began to create software intended for use by dissidents and other cultural reformers anyone anti authoritarian Under Obama through Hillary Clinton’s State Department the hacktivism championed by Brown and the cDc to help with dissident subversion of foreign governments would become American foreign policy part of a program informally known as “internet in a box” While generally laudatory Menn doesn't like all of them Julian Assange and Jake Applebaum of Wikileaks and the TOR project are not portrayed sympathetically draping themselves in morality while serving other causes” Assange was known for his sexual straying and his current behavior certainly distracts from the positive aspects of Wikileaks Menn is also not afraid to criticism the industry proposing that cybersecurity problems today are at least partly the result of terrible business and engineering decisions made decades ago These decisions caused problems that still exist Whether the movement of the hacktivists into the world of corporate and individual greed will be able to remedy some of those structural problems without becoming part of the problem themselves remains to be seen ​To some extent it's the old story countercultural anti authoritarian types find success and join the corporate elites How many Vietnam's most vocal protesters went on to become a prominent part of the culture they had so despised? Beto O'Rourke one of the early cDc members is now running for President and another is security chief for Facebook How well did that go Great read

  3. says:

    Working in computer science and security I'm always interested to hear some of the history that built up the industry I'm involved in I was provided a copy of Cult of the Dead Cow by Joseph Menn by NetGalley and Perseus Books for reviewThe book is a really great deep dive history of the hacker collected Cult of the Dead Cow cDc which has recently come back into focus with the presidential campaign of cDc member Beto O'Rourke The coverage of the foundation and growth of cDc is truly in depth and that may stand as the biggest point in favor and against the bookNames both actual and of the hacker variety abound and without your computer on your lap to continuously Google stuff that comes up it got really challenging to keep track of all the players and their various contributions The historical context of the group and their involvement in other high profile hacker groups government agencies and non profit groups was very interesting but it was a lot to parseI'd recommend this book to ITIS and information security experts and anyone with a genuine love for the history of the internet and all it's corresponding parts and pieces It's a dense read but worthwhile though definitely not for everyone I don't think I'd recommend this to a casual reader

  4. says:

    Disclaimer I work in tech so this may be interesting to me but if you want a really good view at how companies have avoided security in lieu of profit this is the history of the internet Hackers often viewed as evil really spawned a lot of the improved security we are seeing today

  5. says:

    I was waiting for this book not because recent career of R O'Rourke but because I remember CDC from the ol' good times ;P I've used BO BO2k and I wanted to learn about the groupUnfortunately I didn'tThere's very little revealed clearly the group has kept its integrity 95% of meaty facts are still kept very private Contrary to my fears this is not a panegyric ode to RO'R which is covered rather briefly but very positively but there's almost no content in it Author tries to exploit any thread that he could somehow indirectly link to CDC but it's just annoying not only because it's just too obvious but also because he's just very speculative doesn't bring many factsBig disappointment even embarrassment15 17 stars

  6. says:

    CDC has reoriented themselves around kowtowing to the establishment national security apparatus and has uncritically adopted reuisite client worldview This book is their official coming out party China bad Russia bad Assange bad Snowden bad NSA good CIA Good Politicians who are bland centrist ciphers like Beto O'rourke good They've done this not to make the world safe for democracy but to line their pockets with the lucre that comes with peddling the snake oil security products that are part and parcel to the industry

  7. says:

    Inaccurate poor pacing and confused timelines and explanations Mixed up the l0pht and CDC glossed over some pretty major events and charactersThis isn't an accurate history it's a story and not a particular good oneOverall this felt like a weak cash intie in of Beto O'Rourke's political ambitionsYou're much better off reading Bruce Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown which is accurate has better pacing and explanations and is an infinitely better read

  8. says:

    “The powerful machines become the sharper human ethics have to be If the combination of mindless profit seeking algorithms dedicated geopolitical adversaries and corrupt US opportunists over the past few years have taught us anything it is that serious applied thinking is a form of critical infrastructure The best hackers are masters of applied thinking and we cannot afford to ignore them Likewise they should not ignore us We need good in the world If it can’t be lawful then let it be chaotic” Cult of the Dead Cow Joe Menn 2019I first became aware of Joe Menn after he published his 2010 book about the early days of cyber crime called “Fatal System Error” The Cybersecurity Canon Committee nominated it as a Hall of Fame candidate in 2014 But Joe has been a journalist covering cybersecurity since the Internet was young and for the past eight years has been working for Thomson Reuters For this book he chose to explore one of the infamous hactivists groups from the early internet hacker culture The Cult of the Dead Cow or cDc At first glance “”Cult of the Dead Cow” the book is a remembrance of a fascinating time in cybersecurity history early 1980s to mid 2000s when the world transitioned from dial up modems to the beginnings of what the internet is today when the term “hacker” identified clever people who were interested in how the world works and when Gen Xers were old enough to understand what their baby boomer parents did in the 1960s and were eager to see what they could do in the exponentially expanding digital age If that was all the book was it would be a worthwhile read But Joe has something bigger in mind From his point of view Joe has noticed a missing element in “Big Tech” thinking as companies like Google and Facebook have grown to dominate the world’s culture He believes that the leadership in these companies don’t consider even basic ethics when they make decisions to drive the growth of their companies He hopes that by describing the maturity journey of the cDc from internet pranksters to seasoned and respected graybeards that these new millennials born between early 2000s and present day and now in charge of “Big Tech” might use that journey as a blueprint to guide them in the futureThe cDc is probably most well known for orchestrating two big hacker moments the development and marketing of a powerful hacking tool called Back Orifice and running probably the first hactivist campaign centered around a fictitious Chinese hacker group called the Hong Kong Blondes In fact cDc member Misha Kubecka Omega invented the term “hactivism” But the book also covers many of the not so well known activities of the cDC membership Many of these stories show how the cDc was trying to bring good into the world but Joe doesn’t shy away from the cDc dark side either There are lessons to be learned from both sidesThe last sentence in the uote above refers to the role playing game called Dungeons and Dragons and a character alignment system that shows where any particular game character sits on a two dimensional scale of morality The Y Axis moves from Good to Neutral to Evil The X Axis moves from Lawful to Neutral to Chaotic The alignment of any one character falls within the spectrum of that two dimensional grid For example Captain America is the perfect example of Lawful Good while the Joker is the perfect example of Chaotic Evil In the book Menn weaves stories about cDc members that fill the entire space of character alignment He chronicles their actions that dance back and forth between lawful and chaotic but for the most part moral But he does not shy away from the evil parts either He points to some of these first generation hactivists as the example that he would like the new millennials to emulate In other words to make positive change in this digital world endeavor to stay lawful but consider that sometimes you have to move to the chaotic side It is an interesting idea and something that the leaders in “Big Tech” should at least consider And for that I recommend this book for the Cybersecurity Canon Hall of FameSourcesCult of the Dead Cow How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World” by Joseph Mean Book Review by Rick Howard Published by PublicAffairs 4 June 2019 Last Visited 8 June 2019httpswwwgoodreadscombookshow4Fatal System Error The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Down the Internet” by Joseph Menn Published by PublicAffairs 26 January 2010 Last Visited 8 June 2019httpswwwgoodreadscombookshow7The Cybersecurity Canon Fatal System Error” by Rick Howard The Cybersecurity Canon Project 20 February 2014 Last Visited 8 June 2019httpsblogpaloaltonetworkscom201

  9. says:

    This is not a book for everyone The topic is very interesting and author is then capable to write about it but this is incredibly dense book I am a big non fiction fan The facts and good research are very important to me but here I had a feeling as if I was reading a collection of bullet points in PowerPoint presentation The amount of information that author complied in just one page without giving a reader moment to digest was overwhelming and made reading a struggle There was no flow I was really interested in a topic history of the oldest and well known hacker group in the US called CDC but the form was just too dense for my taste I command author for a great research though there was a lot of work put into this book 

  10. says:

    A fascinating in depth analysis of the social groups of hackers who would go on to shape the field of cybersecurity and influence major tech companies This book explores the ethical considerations of technology as well issues of cybersecurity that freuently appear in today's news stories Above all it's a gripping and informative read on a field that is often portrayed as too technical for the average person to understand Joseph Menn has done a fantastic job with the reporting in this book

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