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This Machine Kills Secrets: How Wikileakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World's Information

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  522 ratings  ·  79 reviews
At last, the first full account of the cypherpunks who aim to free the world's institutional secrets, by "Forbes "journalist Andy Greenberg who has traced their shadow history from the cryptography revolution of the 1970s to Wikileaks founding hacker Julian Assange, Anonymous, and beyond.
The machine that kills secrets is a powerful cryptographic code that hides the identi
ebook, 384 pages
Published September 1st 2012 by Dutton Books
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Gary Greenberg
Because I know the author, I've read the book nearly through twice. As enjoyable as it was in the beginning biographies, I was delighted that the last 10% of the story gets MUCH more dramatic & compelling.

Despite the accurate & journalistic tone, Greenberg managed to gracefully incorporate foreshadowing & dark irony at the book's end. He deliberately shows that secrecy is even destructive to organizations dedicated to abolish it (when they insist on living in anonymity & deep sec
He had me at "lattice-based homomorphic cryptography." While this book exists because its author to a chance to interview Julian Assange just before he became a figure of international notoriety, it is not really a history of Wikileaks. Instead, it's looking at the relationship between anonymity and the exposure of sensitive information, an issue that has a surprisingly rich and fraught history in the technology world. When Greenberg first launches into an explanation of the math behind various ...more
First thing out the gate: I'm not expert enough to comment on all of the facts presented in this book, and it's possible that some have been indulged or stretched a bit. It's well cited, and Greenberg's a good journalist, but you never know.

That said, this was one of the best paced and most exciting tech journalism books I remember reading. It really recalls the seminal Steven Levy stuff, like "Hackers" and "Crypto," but working with characters that many people will recognize from the news. (Or
Suspenseful, inspiring, humorous, and overall just a fantastic job of journalistic storytelling. I started quite a few books related to questions of democracy and technology, and specifically hacker culture, all at the same time, and this one is easily the best. Greenberg takes technological and political issues of great complexity - not to mention delicate personal relationships, such as that between Julian Assange and former Wikileaks staffers - and provides the perfect amount of context, expl ...more
Andy gives us a behind the scenes look at the implosion of wikileaks and the intriguing history of leaks and whistle-blowers. A must read for anyone interested in the darker side of the internet and how it can be used to spread transparency and chaos.
By Andy Greenberg. Grade: B+

WHAT IS THE MACHINE THAT KILLS SECRETS? WikiLeaks brought to light a new form of whistle-blowing, using powerful cryptographic code to hide leakers’ identities while they spill the private data of government agencies and corporations. But that technology has been evolving for decades in the hands of hackers and radical activists, from the libertarian enclaves of Northern California to Berlin to the Balkans. And the secret-killing machine continues to evolve beyond Wik
Ben Babcock
I read this book on my flight back to England (the second one, since I missed the first one by that much). The plane is one of those newer models that has entertainment units in the back of every seat, and to my surprise they had different movies on offer from those available when I flew back to Canada a few weeks ago. One of those movies was The Fifth Estate, which also tells the story of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks. So this review will also be a bit of a review of that movie. But I’ll save yo ...more
Христо Блажев
Свобода, повече свобода, отколкото можем да понесем:
“Уикилийкс – машината, която убива тайни” е за света на освободената информация това, което е “Големият залог” на Майкъл Луис за кризата – книга за хората, не просто описание на задвижените и видимо невъзможните за спиране процеси. Анди Грийнбърг е талантлив публицист, който успява да движи паралелно действие за живота и активността на хора от различни точки на света, а понякога от съвсем различни времен
Truly fantastic book by a thorough, careful and yet non-boring journalist who also happens to be a consummate storyteller. The absolutely spiffing quality of the editing on top of Greenberg's lively and inventive use of language makes it a good read even separate from the subject matter, but when you have even a passing interest in the themes of privacy, governmental transparency, institutionalised secret-keeping, anonymity, intellectual property or Internet security, this book is one you simply ...more
Short review: ignore the movie, read the book.

Longer review: This book really benefits from the author’s personal travels and one-on-one interviews with the multi-generational cast of characters involved (and the 20-plus-person descriptive list, at the beginning of the book, definitely aids in keeping track while reading). Greenberg obviously did a ton of research in order to write this overview of politically-informed cryptography and whistleblowing, covering the 1970s onward, and managed to ma
A fascinating look at the rise and fall of WikiLeaks and its copycats. The covers a lot more than just WikiLeaks. It also is about disclosing secrets since Daniel Ellsberg in the 1970s. But the pivot is WikiLeaks. Greenberg has an exceptional writing style that makes a complicated subject more accessible to lay audiences. His focus is on people rather than technology. Consequently, the book reads more like a series of biographies that eventually interconnect. The result is informative.

David Roberts
The book I read to research this post was This Machine Kills Secrets which is one of the best books I have read connected to computing and which I bought from a local bookstore. This book is about the emergence of websites like Wikileaks and how hackers and cypherpunks have released lots of secret information into the public domain. Even the Russian Mafia haven't been safe from these disclosures which have been on a worldwide scale. Julian Assange one of the founders of Wikileaks is one of the b ...more
I had loosely followed news media reports of the tornado surrounding WikiLeaks and its exposés. My main questions were: 1. WikiLeaks was allegedly run by a multi-member organisation. So why was Julian Assange being specifically targeted by the US government, when there were others involved? 2. Why had WikiLeaks decided to release unredacted State Department Cables, when it was obvious that the backlash would be severe and uncompromising? I watched the movie, The Fifth Estate, which answered the ...more
I write this review as a non-technical person. This a very interesting book. It covers, among other topics, the psychology and mindset of the hacker and internet communities. It handles well a number of well-known whistleblowing cases such as the Pentagon Papers and organisations like Wikileaks.
The author meets with some very clever and principled people who have in their own way made their mark on how technology can be used for various purposes and causes. Ostensibly, for me, it is a book abou
Greg Parrott
Interesting journalism piece on the history of WikiLeaks and the technologies around anonymous whistle-blowing in the technology age.
I loved this book. Now I didn't find this book as one that you could read thru at lightening speed. I had to take my time, not only because it dealt with subject matter of which I am not familiar, but also because the author used a "skipping stone" method for the chapters. You'll be reading a magnificent bit about 'person A' then- BAM! page break and you are now reading about 'person B' at another time and place. It all comes together at the end in an understandable manner, but yes it does take ...more
"Despite the jacket blurb’s claim that This Machine Kills Secrets is the “story of a revolution dramatized in the movie The Fifth Estate,” it in fact offers a more expansive history of the technological side of the American quest for government transparency and accountability, including introductions to the major players in that quest. Far more is covered than Julian Assange and WikiLeaks; the book begins with Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s and ends with an afterword about ...more
Andy Greenberg is a world-class reporter and weaves a very engaging story that has deep implications for world society. The book tells the story of the cypher-punks who code the encryption and anonymity software that enables internet and computer network users to operate without connection or access to their real life personas. Whether this involves illegal markets, pirating media, malicious hacking or idealistic leaking, Greenberg examines the reasoning behind the tools and the reasoning behind ...more

This was a fascinating look at the personalities and social forces that brought us wikileaks and its various imitators. Through extensive interviews and close readings of archived chat logs, Greenberg reveals a transcontinental sub-culture of cypers and hactivists – many with troubled childhoods -- who have built the essential architecture for a self-replicating system of anonymous leak portals, and in so doing have called into question the very idea of institutional secrecy.

How did a rag-tag gr
Jud Barry
I picked up this book expecting to be defeated by techno-geek speak, but Greenberg had me riveted from the very start with his parallel retelling, in the first chapter, of Daniel Ellsberg's leaking of the Pentagon Papers and Bradley Manning's leak of State Dept. memos. The device works very well to show how much has changed in the world of institutional secrecy since the Internet came along.

To me the best part of the story is about the infancy of the Internet (it seems so long ago) and about how
Greenberg creates a series of intriguing character sketches which converge at various points throughout modern hacker history. This character-based approach to telling this very timely narrative is what makes it rich and engaging, and makes the current debate about the ethics of leaking so humanly complex. If you start this book ambivalent about how you feel about organizations like Wikileaks and Anonymous, this isn't likely to clarify anything for you. But it will reveal the many layers of mora ...more
My review from Woodridge Book Talk.

“This machine kills secrets” is a riff on Woody Guthrie’s slogan “this machine kills fascists.” Greenberg lays out how cryptography and anonymity are the machine that can help people leak secrets that those in power don’t want the public to know. The best example of this idea is Wikileaks where thousands of classified documents were posted for public consumption. Greenberg goes back to Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers where the leaking technology was not
Greenberg starts out this entertaining read with a comparison of two whistleblowers: Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the Pentagon Papers, and Bradley Manning, who leaked the State Department cables. He then moves on to compare and contrast various cryptographers, cypherpunks, and hackers whose anti-authoritarian goal has been to increase individual privacy on the Internet while at the same time exposing the secrets of governments and businesses, particularly those governments who claim to be democra ...more
Abhi Yerra
A history of WikiLeaks and the cypherpunks movement it chronicles the development over time of the movement. It starts in the 70s to the development of cypherpunk and then gets into WikiLeaks and the current reissance of the WikiLeaks movement. It basically shows the acceleration the last few years of development in the anarchic utopia vision of the original cyberpunks. I enjoyed it as it provided a very journalistic assessment of the movement and where it is going.

This is a really interesting, revealing look into the world of Internet secrecy, its vulnerability and its probable, imminent demise. It's a fascinating look at the human stories behind the key players, whose names you know, you hear about constantly in the news- Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Daniel Ellsberg- and many more key players whose names you might not know, but who have had an important impact in the development of cybersecrecy and anonymity. Andy Greenberg met at length with many o
John Defrog
There’s a number of books out there about Julian Assange and Wikileaks, but I went with this one because – despite the subtitle (which I notice was changed to cash in on the Assange biopic film) – it’s not so much about Assange himself, which doesn’t really interest me, but rather the evolution of the culture of whistleblowing and the technology that has helped shape it. It starts with a fascinating contrast between Daniel Ellsberg (of Pentagon Papers fame) and Bradley Manning before digging int ...more
Fred P
Andy Greenberg weaves a dramatic tale from multiple threads: The Pentagon Papers, the WikiLeaks drama, and Bradley Manning's release of State Dept. cables. Andy's theory is that whistleblowing has become a lot easier, with a side-effect of making it harder to control what is leaked.

He also describes the culture of crypto-enthusiasts and codebreakers, and tells the stories of key cryptography experts and their contributions to secure communications.

The focus, however, is on the whistleblowers the
Lukas Lovas
Highly enlightening. I came to this subject almost with ignorance, and I leave it...well...if not informed, than at least with much more information. I enjoyed the professional way this book was written...telling the history from many points of view. I definitely feel I understand much more, than I used to :)
A good book for someone not familiar with history of leaks, or the problems and concerns with making questionable or illegal actions public. The motivations of leakers don't seem to vary much. A person has had either an epiphany of morality or ethics, or the person simply wants to make someone else pay for a perceived harassment and humiliation. There might be room in the middle for the person who simply believes a government of, by, and for the people doesn't have the privilege of hiding inform ...more
It's hard to know which of the main characters is the one to believe. They contradict each other and both sides say things that make it believable.

I'd like to read a book that is dedicated to the early hackers. That's where I wanted to spend more time. It was the new American Wild West. A place with only the rules that everyone agrees to.

This is a great look at what happened with Wikileaks and Bradley Manning.
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ANDY GREENBERG is a staff writer for Forbes magazine, focusing on technology. He lives in New York City. His story on Julian Assange, based on one of only two extensive interviews Assange had given at the time, was on the cover of Forbes in the summer of 2010.
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