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This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers
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This Machine Kills Secrets: Julian Assange, the Cypherpunks, and Their Fight to Empower Whistleblowers

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  974 ratings  ·  134 reviews
Who Are The Cypherpunks?
This is the unauthorized telling of the revolutionary cryptography story behind the motion picture The Fifth Estate in theatres this October, and a penetrating look at the facts presented in We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, a documentary out now.

WikiLeaks brought to light a new form of whistleblowing, using powerful cryptographic code
Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 25th 2013 by Plume (first published September 2012)
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Clare O'Beara
This book was published in 2012 but still feels up to date in 2016. Andy Greenberg has created a masterful work of both journalism and storytelling. I found the book a complete pleasure to read.

The early part describes Ellsberg, the most prolific state leaker of the Kissinger era, who had to spend over a year bringing papers out of his office, photocopying them, returning them and removing sensitive details in the copies before parting with them. This is contrasted with the presumed copying and
Gary Greenberg
Jul 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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 secrecy themselves.
Dec 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Kara 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
Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Feb 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Riveting journalistic story-telling into the history of cyber whistleblowing up to Assange's house arrest (2012).

The Good:
--5/5 writing style for the general public, approaching Matt Taibbi levels; the narrations in parallel was quite an enjoyable format and offered interesting comparisons.
--Delightful mix of history and intros to technical bits: Ellsberg/Pentagon Papers, Manning leak, encryption, private/public keys, mix network, cypherpunks, Tor (The Onion Router), Cablegate, Aaron Barr vs. A
This book is a comprehensive overview of the unauthorized (and often illegal) sharing and obtaining of information, with subjects ranging from Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers to the cypherpunks and crypto-anarchists of the incipient Internet to the rise and fall of WikiLeaks to Chelsea Manning's release of classified U.S. government information. In a journalistic style, Greenberg depicts both technical and ethical aspects of a decades-long debate over cryptography, government, and whistleblowin ...more
Feb 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2012
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.
Evan Nordquist
3.75 (I'm sure if the current year was 2012, it would have been a 5)

This book could really benefit from an updated edition which adds a few chapters for what has happened since 2012. For example, Edward Snowden.

There would also be an opportunity to followup on some of the book's predictions. For example, the book writes... that the government claims...that new and improved security systems are in place to prevent future mass government leaks, and that Chelsea Manning would be the 'last mega-leak
Utsob Roy
Apr 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Content-wise the book is great if not superb. However, quality of writing is not that great when you consider this as a book, not a long newspaper feature.
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
Jun 01, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A compelling look at the numerous different methods used to allow for people to anonymously release information. Got lost in all the details at times, but overall an interesting read.
Mar 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Greg Parrott
Interesting journalism piece on the history of WikiLeaks and the technologies around anonymous whistle-blowing in the technology age.
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read, and now I'm sure I'm on some list somewhere for even saying I read this book, but then I was probably already on the list a other reasons. ;-)
As for the book, it was an interesting overview to the people who took Wiki Leaks from a fledgling website that no one heard during it s early years, to one that gets mentioned in the national/global press about once a month. Well, at least it use to get mentioned about once a month, these days its about once a quarter.
This book takes the
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A compelling narrative composed of succinct bios of the key actors in the cypherpunks movement attentive to their particular ethical dispositions on institutions of authority, privacy, and citizens’ rights - leaks dating from the release of the Pentagon Papers to Wikileaks’ Cablegate, and a brief mention of the (then) recent Snowden leaks in the book’s Afterword.

Although spying only a peek into this pervasive problem of privacy in the unavoidable Webs that are essential to the infrastructure of
Sep 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book started out extremely promising. It talked about Leakers, how leaks happen, and the hurdles to leaking. It breifly went over how much easier Bradley Manning leaked his trove of documents compared to Daniel Ellsberg, and the troubles that both of them faced. However, this book took a turn for the worst when it started talking about Julian Assange. The book put too much focus on him and very quickly got caught up in the nuances of WikiLeaks and the drama it faced. The book became very te ...more
Maha El Meseery
Jun 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It describe the world of how WikiLeaks and the internet anonymity movement started. I found it informative with good narrative. It tells the story of Cypherpunks, hack geeks and how PGP, tor idea came to live. The ideas of several individual and their obsession with privacy, anonymity, and non censorship. What are the main idea about mixer algorithms to hide traffic and the multiple layer of encryption that Tor use. The story then move to Wikileak earlier days and Julian Assange early life. Late ...more
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book because I could relate to the contents a lot. Having knowledge in the computer space, I recognized a lot of the news and programs they talked about and hearing someones personal stories coming from this area is always very interesting. When Andy talked about all of his adventures and his information trips, it was interesting until the end of the book. The talks of anonymity and other topics of the sort are sensitive topics, and unlike major news outlets, this book is able to co ...more
Keith Baumwald
I'm giving this book 3 stars because it's sorely in need of an updated afterward. The story and characters are all super interesting and it definitely gives some great insights into the cypherpunk movement and the motivations of the people around WikiLeaks. Unfortunately, the book was written pre-Snowden and an extra chapter detailing the fallout from his leaks and what's happened with the leaking community/environment in general over the past 5 years would have been really helpful. As the book ...more
Nancy Shaffer
Interesting, though not really my thing. I read this book mostly as research for a story thread I'm working on in my own writing. When I realized this book was published in 2012, I thought, "Yikes, that's so out of date." But I gradually realized that this is an historical review of social protest and action via divulging secrets, going back to the 60s and even before that. So it's dated analysis isn't a reason not to read it. Disinterest in political infighting and politics in general, is.
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
If you want to know what the deal with hacktivists and how cyber security intersect then this is your book. The author goes into a mini biography about some of the most famous hacktivists, such as Julian Assange, and explains what they could do and why they do it. Even though this information is a little dated now it's still good to know stuff.
It had some interesting parts, but the irritating cadence of the audiobook reader, the overly-technical descriptions in some places, and the libertarian viewpoints of the hackers left me mostly underwhelmed.
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i listened to in audio podcast. And it is hard to get through in audio because of all the tangents but it is masterfully written. great story telling. Lots of detail information. Simply explained even for non technological readers.
Avery N
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-rules
Fascinating and very readable. The world of computer science, cybersecurity, and leaks/hacking is brand new to me, but Greenberg does a phenomenal job of explaining things and putting them in context.
Nick Aurelius
Oct 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brief, maybe not complete, however thoroughly thought provoking and enjoyable read.
Roger Pelayo
Oct 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Definitely a modern must read!
Dec 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book very much.
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Andy Greenberg is an award-winning senior writer for WIRED, covering security, privacy, information freedom, and hacker culture. He's the author of the forthcoming book SANDWORM: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin's Most Dangerous Hackers. Greenberg's reporting for WIRED on Ukraine's cyberwar (including an excerpt from SANDWORM) have won a Gerald Loeb Award for International Report ...more

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16 likes · 4 comments
“Vietnam had never been a true civil war. It was a war of conquest, initiated and perpetuated for more than two decades by the United States, fueled by presidential secrecy and lies. It was no catastrophic accident. As Ellsberg wrote, it was simply “a crime.” 0 likes
“The barriers to modern megaleakers like Manning have crumbled: They needn’t spend a year photocopying. They needn’t be Eagle Scouts or war heroes who penetrate the government’s most elite layer only to go rogue—just one of the millions of Americans with access to secret government documents or the many, many uncountable millions more with access to secret corporate information. And perhaps most important, they needn’t risk reprisal by exposing their identities to the journalists they hope will amplify their whistleblowing.” 0 likes
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