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

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  366 ratings  ·  59 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
Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Published January 8th 2019 by 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,…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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3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  366 ratings  ·  59 reviews

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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
Mrs. Europaea
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.
Raj Agrawal
Feb 14, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Glancing looks at cyber-hacker life. Mostly smut. No recommendation.
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
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.
Feb 01, 2019 rated it liked it
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
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
Mar 17, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Cynthia Rennolds
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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.
Feb 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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!!
Stuffy Nose
Feb 28, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Darrell Paul
Jan 27, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Mar 05, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
"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
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Confession - I picked up this book because I have known the author since he was in middle school with my son. I seldom read non-fiction books and when I do purchase them, more likely than not, do not finish them. But I couldn’t put this one down. It reads like a great scientific thriller. Alien, a highly motivated young woman finds her life career when she joins a hacker group as a freshman at Harvard. These “hackers” break into buildings instead of computers but that is only the beginning. Smit ...more
Dan Ward
As an IT Security Professional this was a fascinating look into the hacking culture but by the end of the book I wasn't sure how much was true. Through some quick searches I was able to figure out the Alien might be a real alias but the actual name of the main subject is not Elizabeth Tessman, she doesn't live in Denver and the actual consulting company doesn't appear to be based in Denver as the book suggests.

The narrative is very interesting and worth reading if you are interested in IT Secur
Greg Stoll
This was...fine. The book spends a long time on Alien's time at MIT, which was sorta interesting but not very compelling. Then it writes about her first few jobs before she became a security consultant/pentester. The last section was the most interesting, and there were little bits of interestingness throughout the rest, but I can't really recommend it. It's a cross between a biography and "here's what security consultants do" (although it does reference the movie Sneakers; points for that!), an ...more
Aug 23, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, the characters are well-developed and some of the scenes felt very real like this book could be turned book to movie. That being said, I am still not sure if this is an actual true story and these things really happened or not. I tried a Google search and couldn't verify anything so that was confusing but if it isn't a true story then the plot is kind of lacking. I kept wondering, what's the end game here? And true or not, this book was pret ...more
Mar 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had my first computer when at the age of 12. At first, all I did was playing games. Then I discovered programming and was in love with it since. And of course, I dreamed of being a hacker. Because it would be really cool, wouldn't it?

I ended up, well, not being a hacker, although I am still working on the computer every day.

Back to this book, it sparked joy. It reminded me how much I loved to read about the hacker world. Although I'd read quite a lot (hell, I even knew "some" guys there too),
A true non-fiction that reads like fiction. The story of a young who entered MIT in the 1990s and was intrigued Alien by the school’s tradition of high-risk physical trespassing: the original “hacking.” Lots of adventure, legal and illegal which is to be expected with college kids. It's when someone dies that reality sets in. *Alien* learned a lot about hacking and security systems at MIT and spent time assessing their security. She did it all, coding, disguising herself to sneak past guards...j ...more
Sean Murray
Apr 01, 2019 rated it it was ok
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
This is one of those books that are unlike any else and that's what makes it an interesting read. I can't talk about the accuracy of the facts (except for a few of them), but the challenges and discrimination touched upon are very much real and very much true. There's no actual plot, so I'd rec this to readers who are interested in CS and enjoy non-fiction that reads like fiction.

*Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Edelweiss for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest rev
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first I did not like Alien, or the whole MIT crowd. But, as her story developed, I came to like and respect her. This book says alot about how yet another industry takes advantage of women and does not pay or acknowledge their smarts. And, secondly, how utterly scary the online world has become, we all know it is a vulnerable and scary place for getting hacked, but, it seems each update, development and innovation just ups the ante.
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an interesting one to review. The story itself follows "Alien" through her years at MIT and beyond. While a great amount of time is covered, some of the 'stories' of her experiences seemed to bounce around and left me trying to connect them. What held my attention the most was her experiences of being a "white hat hacker". Some of the technical aspects got to be too much for me, they were all pretty amazing .. and absolutely make me want to remove myself from everything on-line!!
Stan Kornaga
Not am overly engaging story, very basic on the cyber security space, and not too current
Interesting read on white hat hacking and how the main character Alien got into it
I was expecting a bit more intriguing early year stories on hackers and battles with the black hats
When you look at all the background work done by the author I can only hope for a dark side story to follow
Mar 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
MIT in the early 2000s sounds like an absolute treat. The free-roaming creativity they allowed and inspired on that campus sounded incredible. Smith makes computer hacking sound fun and sexy and Alien literally grows up to create a career out of manually breaking into banks and remotely hacking into classified government information...this whole book was such a fun read.
Robert m
Jan 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was an entertaining read. There were times where the timeline or the specific subjects felt slightly off, as if the story represents more than one person.

Overall it was a fun read, and the type of book I'd recommend to the average computer user to show them how trivial it could be to fall for an email scam, or computer theft.
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