A second book about hackers: A portrait of the hacker as a young man

The day after I finished finals I went down to Canmore to celebrate freedom and the arrival of spring. We stopped by the bookstore and I bought two books. Oddly, both of them were about hackers. The first one Wikileaks was about Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. The second Mafiaboy: A Portrait of the Hacker as a Young Man is about the attacks a fifteen year-old from Montreal carried out on some of the world’s biggest websites and the consequences they had for him.

Mafiaboy has proved to be a very good read. I finished the first 17 chapters in a 12-hour period — Harry Potter style. I’m sure Michael Calce’s — the author of Mafiaboy and former hacker of the same name — computer security column is just as eloquent and compelling.

It is amazing what a Calce managed to do as a young kid. He built himself into an elite hacking machine while still in elementary and junior high school. It is impressive the amount of insight he gives into the world of hackers — a layer of the online community that I find it hard to picture and understand the existence of. I find it hard to picture where these hackers operate and how for most of us this world simply doesn’t exist.

Calce speaks about his past in a way that is impressively frank and honest. He is able to look back at his choices and the actions of the police and write about them with the lesson of hindsight.

He challenges media portrayals of him and inconsistencies in news articles published at the time of his arrest. This raises interesting questions for journalists and reminds us that just because a few teachers at a school said one thing doesn’t mean that it is necessarily true, there is another side to the story.

Calce talks about the dangers of the internet and basic things that can be done to defend yourself against the dangers that lurk on the internet — remember he was once one of them. Reading this book has made me reconsider my cavalier attitude to computer security and his checklist in the second last chapter is quite helpful.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t know a lot about hacking — I didn’t two weeks ago and still hardly do — or computers the world of hacking is really quite interesting as is Calce’s story. Reading is all about be taking to a new and interesting place and this one is quite the ride.

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