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Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,619 ratings  ·  201 reviews
The shocking untold story of the elite secret society of hackers fighting to protect our privacy, our freedom -- even democracy itself

Cult of the Dead Cow is the tale of the oldest, most respected, and most famous American hacking group of all time. Though until now it has remained mostly anonymous, its members invented the concept of hacktivism, released the top tool
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 4th 2019 by PublicAffairs
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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 ·  1,619 ratings  ·  201 reviews

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Start your review of Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World
Feb 08, 2022 rated it really liked it
Exploration, anarchy, hacktivism/activism, schism

Every single tool humankind has created can be used for good or to hurt, how you decide to use it defines your ethics or lack thereof.

Cult of the Dead Cow, cDc, is one of the earliest and longest lasting hacker groups. This book follows the trajectory of the group and some of its members as time and events evolve.

A group of self-defined outsiders for the most part, they progressed through a sequence with some people coming and going as their ide
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019, netgalley
From exposing security issues during the early days of the Internet to quashing modern-day political misinformation, one group of hackers has been through it all: Cult of the Dead Cow. By latching onto their own branch of “hacktivism”, this group has morphed from an eclectic group of enthusiasts to a movement intent on fighting for greater online security.

Journalist Joseph Menn has pulled together perhaps the most encompassing looks at one the longest-serving hacker collectives. This in and of i

Cult of the Dead Cow is the facetious name of an early group of hackers (white hat) that began as a computer bulletin board (BBS). Consisting originally of bored but talented teenagers who enjoyed reverse engineering phone systems and early computer software, they evolved into "hactivists" (hackers with a mission), many of whom went on the become influential and and important members of the establishment.

Menn follows the individual careers of cDc members who initially focused on security flaws
Apr 10, 2019 rated it liked it
Working in computer science and security, I'm always interested to hear some of the history that built up the industry I'm involved in. I was provided a copy of Cult of the Dead Cow by Joseph Menn by NetGalley and Perseus Books for review.

The book is a really great deep dive history of the hacker collected Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) which has recently come back into focus with the presidential campaign of cDc member Beto O'Rourke. The coverage of the foundation and growth of cDc is truly in dept
Tom Kranz
Aug 19, 2019 rated it did not like it
Inaccurate, poor pacing, and confused timelines and explanations. Mixed up the l0pht and CDC, glossed over some pretty major events and characters.
This isn't an accurate history, it's a story, and not a particular good one.
Overall this felt like a weak cash-in/tie-in of Beto O'Rourke's political ambitions.
You're much better off reading Bruce Sterling's "The Hacker Crackdown", which is more accurate, has better pacing and explanations, and is an infinitely better read.
Sebastian Gebski
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
I was waiting for this book, not because recent career of R. O'Rourke , but because I remember CDC from the ol' good times ;P I've used BO & BO2k and I wanted to learn more about the group.

Unfortunately, I didn't.

There's very little revealed, clearly the group has kept its integrity & 95% of meaty facts are still kept very private. Contrary to my fears, this is not a panegyric ode to RO'R (which is covered rather briefly, but very positively), but there's almost no content in it :( Author tries
May 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Executive Summary: I've had this book on my radar for a bit. I was in the mood for some non-fiction was able to pick this up from the library. I thought it was interesting at times but not as good as some of the other books about the early days of hacking that I've read. 3.5 stars.

Full Review
I got my first computer in the late 80s, but didn't get my first modem until the mid 90s. I played around a bit on bulletin boards, but missed a lot of the heyday that lead to development of formation of
Aug 31, 2019 rated it did not like it
CDC has reoriented themselves around kowtowing to the establishment national security apparatus, and has uncritically adopted requisite client worldview. This book is their official coming out party. China: bad. Russia: bad. Assange: bad. Snowden: bad. NSA: good. CIA: Good. Politicians who are bland centrist ciphers like Beto O'rourke: good. They've done this not to "make the world safe for democracy," but to line their pockets with the lucre that comes with peddling the snake oil security produ ...more
Scott  Hitchcock
Aug 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Disclaimer: I work in tech so this may be more interesting to me but if you want a really good view at how companies have avoided security in lieu of profit this is the history of the internet. Hackers often viewed as evil really spawned a lot of the improved security we are seeing today.
Jun 14, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This is not a book for everyone. 

The topic is very interesting and author is more then capable to write about it but this is incredibly dense book. I am a big non fiction fan. The facts and good research are very important to me, but here I had a feeling as if I was reading a collection of bullet points in PowerPoint presentation. The amount of information that author complied in just one page without giving a reader moment to digest was overwhelming and made reading a struggle. There was no flo
Angela Han
It is an interesting topic to read on but I found the book too boring to read for me.

This book may just interest you if you are interested in the history and feats of CDC
Diana Pojar
Really great book about the history of hacking… I think many engineers, especially if you are interested in the security world would enjoy it.

The only thing I struggled with reading this is how the book was structured, is the stories felt extremely all over the place and to me it felt it was jumping around about different people in a random and non-chronological order. This made my reading experience harder to properly follow the events.
Laurie Allin
Dec 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
I'm still completely unsure what possessed me to search out this book and read it, but I am so glad I did. I saw it on Goodreads from a guy I went to HS with, who does not have the same taste in books as me, and I was immediately intrigued. Hacking has always fascinated me. The movie/book persona of hacking. I know nothing of coding/programming/hardware/cyber-security. I ask my teenager often for help when I need assistance on my computer. I am amazed that this book pulled me in and most of the ...more
Apr 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book quickly went from a two-star to a four-star investigative reporting. If you're a general reader like me, the first three chapters don't make sense. It was a litany of events and names and don't make sense unless you're already an insider and this is another layer of insider information. The author forgot to include the analysis of why we have to care about these events and numerous people and their handles (a multitude listing of soft drug events and basic juvenile naughtiness)! Let me ...more
Rick Howard
Jun 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: csc-hacktivism
“The more powerful machines become, the sharper human ethics have to be. If the combination of mindless, profit-seeking algorithms, dedicated geopolitical adversaries, and corrupt US opportunists over the past few years have taught us anything, it is that serious applied thinking is a form of critical infrastructure. The best hackers are masters of applied thinking, and we cannot afford to ignore them. Likewise, they should not ignore us. We need more good in the world. If it can’t be lawful, th ...more
Stacy ohmyskulls
Hmm ok, so this book has interesting topics, some of it I felt was reported in a pretty dry and straightforward way. Normally I appreciate the non-sensationalist approach, but there were long stretches of this audiobook where I sort of just zoned out and listened, much like I do with informational podcasts, where I just want to hear a voice saying interesting words and not really absorbing much of the info.

I am honestly not sure whether I can fault the author or narrator here, because this migh
Jun 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating, in-depth analysis of the social groups of hackers who would go on to shape the field of cybersecurity and influence major tech companies. This book explores the ethical considerations of technology, as well issues of cybersecurity that frequently appear in today's news stories. Above all, it's a gripping and informative read on a field that is often portrayed as too technical for the average person to understand: Joseph Menn has done a fantastic job with the reporting in this book ...more
Tadas Talaikis
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, activism
"Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something that you will never forgive me for. I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto." Mentor's Last Words

"It was a time of moral reckoning. People realized the power that they had." MUCH @STAKE: THE BAND OF HACKERS THAT DEFINED AN ERA
I have seen this book on several reading lists for those interested in cyber security but the title never really spoke to me. I am very glad that I finally read it nonetheless. It was not what I had assumed it would be.

This book starts out by describing the history of the "cult of the dead cow", a group which formed in the very early days of the internet and was initially more about underground culture than computer security. Over the years it slowly evolved into a group of hackers. As Menn desc
Bianca A.
Dec 21, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020, audiobooks
Joseph Menn is the longest serving and most respected mainstream journalist on cyber security. He has won three Best in Business awards from the Society of American Business Editors & Writers and been a finalist for three Gerald Loeb Awards.
I had HIGH hopes for this book when I bought it due to the author and also the hype and history of the cDc, but for some reason I just couldn't get into it. I find Mitnick, Assange and Snowden's books much more interesting and/or relevant. I am not speaking o
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A good introduction (and really the definitive account) of the cDc, one of the more self-referential and entertaining hacker groups of the 90s (technically 1984-now, but seemed at peak in the late 90s). Interesting for a variety of reasons, particularly how accomplished some of their members are -- heads of security, research, etc. for both large enterprises and security companies, DARPA, and a Congressman (and later Senatorial and Presidential candidate). As someone who was never in cDc but was ...more
Clicky Steve
Nov 17, 2020 rated it liked it
I remember Cult of the Dead cow as a mysterious hacker group from when I was a kid growing up in the 90s. I was always curious to know more about them, and so had to read this book. It charts their existence and individual career/personal developments over the years, linking the group in with current technological and political challenges. It is very well researched and filled with detail that tells the story of the members, but in the end I found it to be perhaps a tad too... descriptive, as at ...more
Tom Lawrence
I found it engaging and interesting discussing the history of the group that I found very interesting when I was first starting my career in technology. Back in the 90's I attended a few 2600 meeting and the Cult of the Dead Cow and the "Back Orifice" tool was a frequent topic. Learning more about the background and the stories behind this group brought back some great memories about the early era of hacking. ...more
Sep 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great history! Some I was there for (early DefCons and CDC launches), most not, but all rung true of that special time and place where we were all learning. Thank you for capturing this slice of awesome, before we forgot.
Sergey Kochergan
Jan 03, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Good old times
Space Rogue
Jun 25, 2020 rated it liked it
I wrote this long version a year ago after I posted the short version of my review of “Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World” by Joseph Menn receive a fair bit of criticism from some cDc members. I was called a troll, a self righteous prick, an asshole and other choice names. As a result I felt it necessary to detail my many issues with the book. So, here is the long version.

Books can be funny things. Anyone can write one. The author can put into it
Jul 15, 2019 rated it liked it
It was cool to learn about the CDC and their days on top during the NT/XP era. Through Back Orifice they were crucial toward Microsoft getting their stuff together an giving a damn about security. I appreciate their efforts.

I could have done without the political bias and Trump-bashing.
David Hixson
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a history of computer activism this was pretty good. The cDc was not the focus, so much as the through-line onto which the rest of the information was placed, but it worked out pretty well.

Nothing revolutionary, and at times it felt Homeric in terms of the listing of names and events, but it worked for the story the author wanted to share.
Patrick DiJusto
Dec 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
The Cult of the Dead Cow was a hacker group that started in the late 1980s at the height of BBS culture, before the internet went mainstream. Their text files on hacking and pretty much every other topic wer insane, informative, hilarious, and depending on your point of view, dangerous. I was very much into hacking and BBS culture at the same time, and I kept myself at an arm's distance from the CDC, because these guys were scary.

It was probably the biggest mistake of my life.

Members of The Cult
Ben Rogers
At least real dead cows are tasty - in the form of burgers

This book sounded so interesting.

I enjoy hacking books, as I have been getting into hobby hacking lately.

Well, this book was not at all interesting.
It was very slow, heavy in history, and just all-around bland.

At least real dead cows are tasty in the form of burgers, because this was just solely a dead cow.

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Joseph Menn’s fourth book, "Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World," was published in June 2019 by PublicAffairs and in paperback in June 2020. It tells the story of the oldest, most respected and most famous American hacking group of all time. Its members invented the concept of hacktivism, released both the top tool for cracking passwords and the reig ...more

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