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Breaking and Entering: The Extraordinary Story of a Hacker Called "Alien"

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  934 ratings  ·  126 reviews
This taut, true thriller dives into a dark world that touches us all, as seen through the brilliant, breakneck career of an extraordinary hackera woman known only as Alien.

When she arrived at MIT in the 1990s, Alien was quickly drawn to the school’s tradition of high‑risk physical trespassing: the original “hacking.” Within a year, one of her hallmates was dead and two o
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 8th 2019 by Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Stuffy Nose if you haven't started it yet, i would say it depends on how technical you are, i think. there's an unfortunate narrative that comes up a few times, b…moreif you haven't started it yet, i would say it depends on how technical you are, i think. there's an unfortunate narrative that comes up a few times, but anyone with basic infosec and *nix knowledge will see through the BS and realize it was a basic skills issue. anyways, i don't want to give away too much, but if you'd like to hear more on my opinion, feel free to message me. also disclaimer, i still have about 80 pages left so my opinion could change.(less)

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Mrs. Europaea
Nov 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
Substance was lacking.

It read very much like fiction which was unpleasant. Nothing felt cohesive or authentic. I don't deny that this can be true, even as absurd as some of it seems, but Smith's writing left much to be desired.
Danielle Tremblay
In the "Age of Big Data" when everybody and their brother (Big Brother?) track our every move, it's easy to become obsessed with data security: personal, industrial and Governmental. And are the Anonymous and other secret groups of hackers what really threaten most our data? And in this era of counterterrorism, should we let our government expand the surveillance powers of intelligence agencies over individuals and groups?

This book tells simultaneously two stories: the hacktivism of the last 20
John Fredrickson
This is a good story, and is easily and quickly read. The presumably true story is of a female MIT student who participates in the hacker culture of MIT, then over considerable time develops into a business woman whose specialty is hacking as a white hat for hire.

The first half of the book is the most interesting, as it brings the reader into a very curious college culture of drugs and rule-breaking. The middle of the book explores the development of the white hat culture, which is also pretty
Sean Murray
Half the book is spent detailing this person's boring life at MIT and the other half about how they weren't respected at the job they worked at even though she was supposedly really good at it. In the end she got fired and went on to start her own company wherein she would wildly undercharge for the value of her work. Then the book ends. I kept waiting for the big conflict in the book and final ending but neither ever came.

I don't know what the point of this book is other than I guess to put in
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hard to really distinguish if this is actually nonfiction. It read like fiction but is so lacking in substance and follow through that I found my way more than 75% of the way through, wondering where this story was going? I often thought “am I just reading through someone’s perfectly normal career progression through a fringe career?” Lots of people find something they are interested in while attending college and stumble their way through life trying to make that interest a fruitful career. The ...more
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was ok
Nothing in the book is outside the realm of the possible if you’ve worked in physical, network, or app penetration testing. Likewise, nothing is really that extraordinary either. I really struggled writing this review; if this was billed as a novel with great resourcing, it would have been a solid 3.5/4. But as it stands, being billed as reallife exploits, with way too much detail to be simply memory and weird details stuck in, it just felt like someone’s fanfic of a pentester’s life.
Raj Agrawal
Feb 14, 2019 rated it did not like it
Glancing looks at cyber-hacker life. Mostly smut. No recommendation.
Audrey (Warped Shelves)
I’m not typically one for nonfiction—especially biographies—but I’ve been trying to grow up a little and read more big kid books lately; also to expand my reading range. This one I stumbled across at the library and picked up on a whim, and man was it a rush to read!

I want to point out real quick that if you are looking to read about stealthy, high-risk, super 1337-haxxor dark web stuff, you should look elsewhere. This is (almost) entirely legal, and “hacking” is defined in this book in a way d
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Breaking and Entering tells the story of a hacker known by her call sign from MIT Alien. This book follows Alien as she finds her place amongst MIT and the hacking community there (note at the time she was at MIT hacking was not limited to a computer) and eventually after several tragedies befall her hacking friends finds her place in IT and at Los Alamos. Through a series of events she finds herself working in a hacking field which includes both computer hacking and physical penetration. Her sp ...more
Cynthia Rennolds
Interesting and enlightening book

“Elizabeth Tessman’s” story of her years at MIT and the next 20 years as a White Hat computer hacker are fascinating and compelling. Her exploits are interesting and give insight into the hacker mentality. This book also reveals the lack of security we each face in our own lives. Whether you are technical or not this is an interesting book and worth reading.
Jun 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Just couldn't get over the novelistic writing style and the focus on Alien's boyfriends and clothing choices over her actual hacking work. Too much detail had to have been invented, and it was often painfully obvious that this was written by a dude. 2.5/5 ...more
Scribe Publications
A novelistic tech tale that puts readers on the front lines of cybersecurity. For all whose lives and connections depend on the internet — nearly everyone — this biography of the ‘Alien’ provides a fast-paced cautionary tale. Jeremy Smith has enough experience as a computer programmer to understand the technicalities of this world, but his storytelling makes it intelligible to general readers; indeed, the narrative is more character-driven than technology-driven ... Smith goes into great detail ...more
Jim Crocker
Apr 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This story of modern-day hacking and cyber security begins with the life of a young student from MIT called "ALIEN" and follows her development into a preeminent "penetration tester." Essentially, a company hires her to "test" all of their security systems -- both cyber and walk-in / walk-out. ALIEN is like a ghost walking through walls. It's an amazing story.

Now it turns out that both author Jeremy N. Smith and ALIEN live right where I do in Missoula, Montana. It's a relatively small city that'
Mar 02, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
If you are already working in the security field, you will probably not enjoy this book. I could not even get through the first chapter. I really wanted this to be a good book and with a single sentence I could tell this wasn’t going to be for me.

I think this book would be more enjoyable for someone in their teens who is interested in learning about working in computer security.
Mar 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction, vine
My hundred-page rule is that life is too short to waste time reading books that I don't enjoy. Sadly, Breaking and Entering did not pass my rule. In fact, I had pretty much figured out by Page 75 that I wasn't going to finish the book, but I thought I needed to give the book the chance. Believe me, those last 25 pages were the longest pages of my life.

I thought the book would be about Alien, the hacker's work in cybersecurity. I understand author Jeremy Smith wanted to show us everything leading
Apr 18, 2020 rated it it was ok
What really sucks about this read is that I loooooove the subject and the fact that this centers on a female hacker is so cool. So yay!

But so much of the story conveyed was sooooo boring. I wanted some of her background. But I didn't need to spelunk with her through MIT for as long as we did. I wanted to know some of the technical aspects of her work, but not that much.

To be fair some of my reaction is that my expectations and the fantasy I project around "hacker culture" was thrust up against
Don Richards
Jan 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a raw view of a person's professional development from clueless explorer to world class hacker/security professional. Very insightful on how to get started in the security industry and pitfalls that can impact your journey. I really liked this one. It gives a clear picture as to how to approach security fundamentally and I couldn't stop laughing at one of the code names, Cheese burger. Absolutely worth the read. ...more
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fascinating window into the MIT culture and the path through the jungle of the cyber security world at the highest levels, extra challenging for a woman. The race has no finish line, and there is no complete safety for any of us! Amazing to read about what secrets can be hacked (all of them) and the extent to which social engineering works on even the most careful and suspicious of us. Enjoyed this, but the fear is valid!!
Aug 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Very good book. Enjoyed the parts about MIT - never knew about the hacks there.

The cyber part of the story was told very well.
Stuffy Nose
Feb 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: disliked
It just wasn't a very good book to me. I felt like parts of the story were missing, some antics felt overly-exaggerated. I also felt the final 50'ish pages were rushed to completion.
Alien couldn't understand why she wasn't getting field work, yet she didn't know about the 'ping' command. I was already just okay with the book until i got to that part of the story. The book was very difficult for me to finish from that point on.
Sep 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
Poorly Written and Unenlightening

This seems to be written by an author without deep understanding of the way hackers use their skill with code to break into databases. Or perhaps author Jeremy Smith simply assumes that readers do not have the interest or patience to learn about anything technical.

My main takeaways in the first third of the book were that:
1) The lengthy descriptions of physically breaking and entering into MIT passageways and the use of drugs among the protagonist’s friends bec
Darrell Paul
Jan 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
Poorly sourced. This guy wants to be Tracy Kidder so badly, but he forgot Kidder's strength: spending time and getting immersed in a person and subject long enough to speak truthfully and with authority.

Just read "Soul of A New Machine" instead.
Rayfes Mondal
May 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
I didn't find anything extraordinary about this story. The MIT stuff right at the beginning was interesting since I'd considered going there and knew a little about the hacker culture. But the security work is just boring IT stuff to me and not difficult. Security is very important but these aren't the kinds hack that are interesting. Read Future Crimes by Marc Goodman if you want to have your mind blown about hacks that have already occurred and what's coming next. This was more of a cute biogr ...more
Sep 16, 2020 rated it liked it
I was torn between two and three stars but ended up being more generous here.

This is a borderline poorly-written, very loosely nonfiction book about "Alien", aka "Elizabeth Tessman", who is actually a woman named Sherri Davidoff. I wouldn't exactly call her story "extraordinary," but I think it definitely is interesting. I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot better if Davidoff had actually written her own memoir (by herself or with a co-author/ghostwriter), rather than have a random guy w
Kimberly Simon
The book is told in a narrative second person perspective. The timeline is college through the main character, Alien (Elizabeth) thirties. It is a path of her discovering her skills and how to use them which isn't as simple as train and square and fit through square hole. what she is skilled at turns out to be one of socieities greatest threats - cybertechnology and hacking. It begins with Elizabeth receiving entry into MIT.

MIT a place for thinking by doing. I loved how the story showed the free
J Henderson
Jan 01, 2020 rated it liked it
In the late 90s, Elizabeth Tessman aka "Alien" went to MIT. There, she became involved with Fifth East hackers. Not computer hackers but a group of people exploring “off-limits” areas of the university.

While studying at MIT, she started to experiment and enhance the “finger” utility on the university computer system, in order to determine where her friends were at all times. She fell in love with this new type of exploration and switched majors to electrical engineering and computer science in
Mar 05, 2019 rated it did not like it
I had been excited to start this book, as it features a female protagonist hacker. Although I purchased this book under the misunderstanding that it was a fictitious thriller, it is more biographical in nature, cataloging vignettes of Alien's life events. I was open to the biographical style, but personally felt like the book was poorly written on numerous levels.

As a female reader, I often found myself rolling my eyes at the author's attempt at relaying Alien's female perspective, which was a
K De
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
"Breaking and Entering" by Jeremy Smith is a strong companion book to "Ghosts in the Wires" about the digital realm of white hats and black hats. The first part of the book is about the culture of "hacking" at MIT and how it is part of the intellectual ferment of students there. (The great film about "hacking" is "Real Genius" about the student culture of Pacific Tech nee CalTech.) The rest of the book is about cyber sleuthing by "Alien" who graduates from MIT and is intimately involved in becom ...more
Peter Aronson
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In order for a work of biography to be interesting, you need at least two things: an interesting life, and an interested biographer. This book, the story of "Alien" (Elizabeth), a white hat hacker had both. It starts with her time at MIT and her introduction to the old-style hacking culture (hackers didn't always mean bad guys, but what can you expect from a semi-literate press?) I had several friends that attended MIT, and that part rang very true.

Next was her development as a security and net
Jul 18, 2019 rated it did not like it
I enjoy learning about how different people (or businesses) got to where they are today. I saw this book on my local library's recently released shelf and thought I'd give it a shot.

I had low expectations going in and boy did it deliver.

Some sections were mildly interesting ("Elizabeth's" time at MIT), but it seemed like "Elizabeth" could do no wrong and parts of it made her out to be some sort of superwoman.

Perhaps I've been spoiled by other biographers (Robert Caro, Ron Chernow) and I'm cert
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