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The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  3,075 ratings  ·  89 reviews
A journalist investigates the past, present, and future of computer crimes, as he attends a hacker convention, documents the extent of the computer crimes, and presents intriguing facts about hackers and their misdoings.
Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 1st 1993 by Bantam (first published November 1992)
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Jan 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nonfiction! Woo! Computer CRIME!

This is a classic non-fiction about late eighties and very early nineties hacking from both sides of the law, but what is most most interesting is not that it's written by a classic cyberpunk author, but that it's written in such a way as to awe and amaze us readers even this late in the internet game... before there was truly a real Internet. BBS's and phreaking was is its own kind of world, as was trashing and other kinds of social engineering.

Not that we don't
Bruce Sterling's classic work highlights the 1990 assault on hackers, when law-enforcement officials successfully arrested scores of suspected illicit hackers and other computer-based law-breakers. These raids became symbolic of the debate between fighting serious computer crime and protecting civil liberties. However, The Hacker Crackdown is about far more than a series of police sting operations. It's a lively tour of three cyberspace subcultures--the hacker underworld, the realm of the ...more
L. Farmer
Jul 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Essential reading for anybody that has ever typed anything on the internet.
Glen Engel-Cox
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It would be hard for me to write an unbiased view of this book, so I might as well be up front with why I was predisposed to like it. One, I know Bruce Sterling, count him as a friend, and have always liked his writing style. In fact, I credit Sterling (along with Mike Godwin, about whom more later) for helping me to develop my reading palate, that is, to urge me to examine what I was reading with a critical eye, in order to discover a wider variety of interest. Two, although I’m not a hacker, I ...more
Pramod Nair
Mar 17, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: computer-science
When ‘The Hacker Crackdown’ - written by the cyberpunk novelist Bruce Sterling – was released in 1992, it was a hugely acclaimed journalistic study of the cyberspace of the late 80s and early 90s detailing the affairs and people who have influenced this chaotic electronic frontier. Written during a period when the modern day Internet was taking it’s first steps, this book is a historic chronicle of the outlaw culture of the electronic frontier right from it’s beginner days, and inspects the ...more
Jun 21, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Non-Fiction. On January 15, 1990, AT&T's long-distance switching system went down. It was due to a flaw in AT&T's software, but it was easier to blame hackers for the period of lost service. Because hackers, nobody likes 'em, right? This led to a nationwide crackdown on phone phreaks and computer hackers, which lead to the beginning of a political movement to protect online activities as free speech, which lead to you and I, able to discuss a book about computer hackers without the FBI ...more
Christopher M.
Jun 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is a veritable "Who's Who" of the early internet days and those who stepped outside of the lines of the law of this new frontier, often times before the lines were marked in ink. Stirling has done a masterful piece of work with this book, making the internet's history come alive in such a way that you could almost hear the humming of vacuum tubes and taste the tension in the air as a literal Old West battle ensued between the 'white hats' and 'black hats', new sheriffs taking power in ...more
Dec 31, 2010 rated it liked it
It's almost two decades old at this point, so, well, it's dated. But it's so excellently written, and it covers such a wide range of topics. It also has a whole lot of that early 90s cyberpunk-hacker spirit that I can't help but feel a bit of nostalgia here.

That said, it covers rather well some of the first battles pitched over civil liberties on-line in US courts, and the resulting founding of EFF and other such groups. Two decades later, it's a fascinating artifact of its time.

It does tend to
G. Branden
Mar 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book forced me to save up my money and buy a modem.

I could only scrounge enough for a 2400 baud Hayes; at the time, the U.S. Robotics Courier was the top-of-the-line running at 14.4k.

I got to see the twilight of the BBS era as the crepuscular Internet age broke over an unsuspecting nation.

Which quickly led to the "September that never ended"...
Ben Chenoweth
Mar 24, 2011 rated it liked it
An interesting snaphot of the early years of the Internet. I especially loved the part where Sterling includes the text of the "stolen" document, and finding out that it is almost completely unreadable! And worth only about $13! That was priceless...
Paresh Mathur
Oct 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Don't take my 5 star rating on this seriously. I read this book first as a teenager and it changed my life. It gave me heros I looked up to for quite some time and I think I have retained the good parts of it even today. This book also introduced me to another author Cory doctorow who is basically the person who shaped me the most.
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: text
A bit on the technical side, but an essential look into the early days of the public Internet and cybercrime enforcement gaffes in the USA. Amazing research.
Zeh Fernando
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Dry at times, and not as compelling as "Masters of Deception". Very informative and introspective, however.
Marc Schuyesmans
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
a must read fo all the nerds
Kanwarjeet Singh
Apr 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very nice read - really sets the mood for the times and takes you along for a story - loved it!
Apr 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is my review from 1994: An interesting book for those who like computers, the ever-developing communication network, and the once smug and content telecommunications companies (telcos) verses the explorers of the new frontier of cyberspace and computer hackers.

I was unaware that AT&T's long distance phone network went down for about eight hours on January 15, 1990, caused most likely by computer hackers. Computer hackers had caused enough fuss to raise the ire of the U.S. Secret
May 20, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic trip through the scary, hilarious, and often absurd Operation Sundevil, the "theft" of an administrative E911 document, and the hackers doing the real work long before Jonny Miller and Angelina Jolie decided to "Crash N Burn" on the big screen.

Sterling's nonfiction can be as engaging as his fiction, and you can even read this book for free, or have Cory Doctorow read it to you, if you know where to look. Google's probably a good starting point.

If you read just three books about
Lara Eakins
Apr 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Started Bruce Sterling’s “The Hacker Crackdown” in addition to everything else that I’m reading. I had the paperback, but decided to check to see if it was available electronically and discovered that the ebook was free! Then I also discovered that Cory Doctrow had podcasts of his reading of the book, so I’ve downloaded that as well. As an experiment, I’m combining the reading on my iPad and listening to the podcast version.

FInished, mostly by listening to the podcast by Cory Doctrow. It’s
Aug 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: misc
The book gives a great history and insight to the development of the telephone and internet and the hackers and crackers that it inspired. It brought back memories. It was the first e-book that I ever read back around 94/95 via TXT file. It inspired me to build a card-board model of an electronic data viewer (aka e-reader). Showed it to a family member who did not think much of the idea. I did not know enough about electronics, so I scrapped the idea. Eventually, I started printing pages of it ...more
reverend dak
Dec 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
A really interesting and appropriate story for this day and age. Especially for one that was written before the Internet, as we know it now, existed. He predicted that this book would be obsolete five years after it's release, but here 18 years, later we find that ignorance of the government and powers that be have not changed. And neither has the curiosity and ambition of teenage hackers.

What made my jaw dropped the most were the predictions of the founder of Lotus (1-2-3). You have to read it
Mar 24, 2009 marked it as to-read
Shelves: nonfiction
Read about this book on Wil Wheaton's blog:

"On one level, The Hacker Crackdown is about how the US Department of Justice launched a nationwide operation to bring down a bunch of hackers in something called Operation Sundevil, but it's also about a subculture and its people who remain misunderstood to this day. Most importantly, introduced me to a world where information and intellect were incredibly valuable, and it inspired me to learn all that I could
Mar 31, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Brian by: Nick Black
(3.5) Historical (now), interesting but not narrative enough for me

Kind of a history lesson told by a (not known to me, but I probably wouldn't) sci-fi/cyberpunk author around 1992 about the big Hacker Crackdown (again, not known to me, but clearly big news among the hacker community) around 1990, in which law enforcement went after hackers and online bulletin boards that dabbled in the dissemination of illegal information.

So, was interesting, but to qualify for my hackerspotting shelf needs to
Jan 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle, non-fiction, geek
Excellent background reading (although rather long) that provides a great historical perspective on many things cyberspace, not only things that most people think of when they hear the word "hacker""...

I thoroughly enjoyed the numerous perspectives provided as well as interesting details about certain people that I'm sure I would really enjoy reading more about, especially what they've been up to since then.

Especially interesting because this book is 18 years old, and that's very clear when you
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
Things I enjoyed about this book... it explains the founding of the EFF. It sits (time-wise) at the end of the BBS era and the start of the Internet (pre web) when "Internet nodes" (now known as websites) were becoming fashionable. Mitch Kapor predicts the scarcity of IPv4 and suggests (what will become) IPv6 which is just now finally coming into it's own 20 years later. I liked reading about the Legion of Doom and pirate boards from my own early computing years when 300 baud modems were the ...more
Oct 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
While being quite old, this book can still be an interesting read today if you are interested in the early days of the Hacker movement as we know it today or have fond memories of the time yourself. Sterling tries to give us the complete picture, from the Hacker underground, over the Telcos and law enforcement to the back then newly founded EFF and other electronic civil libertarians. If you have ever read an issue of Phrack or 2600, spent countless hours on old-school BBS's or still remember ...more
Nov 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: computer-stuff
An in-depth, and sometimes overly dry, review of the history of Operation Sundevil, a federal crackdown on "hackers" that occurred in the summer of 1990. There is a LOT of information here, and Sterling has spent a lot of time researching the facts which surrounded each of the main groups. I think the most interesting part of the book is the epilogue, in which we find out not only what happened to a lot of the main players, but we also see where the state of the world of computer security and ...more
Maria Susana
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I never thought someone had written about the darkest age in American history. A witch hunt that pales in comparison to Salem. After returning to my home country we were all watched. Our phones and comms tapped. For 10 long years (because it happened again after Bush Jr came into office)certain programmers were closely watched. The Clinton Administration tried to have some of us go back to America, but no, no way going back into hell... This is no tale, this really happened. "The Home of the ...more
Dana Larose
Apr 21, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, pre-2007
I read this a long time ago, probably around when it was first published, and noticed that Sterling had semi-put the book in the public domain and that it was available from Project Guttenburg so I fetched it into my iPhone.

I enjoyed it back in and it's still good. The main part of the book details some of the earlier hacker arrests and trials and catalogues the BBS and early Internet scenes in the US.
Joel Neff
Jan 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Internet junkies, information addicts, and copyfighters.
Recommended to Joel by: Cory Doctorow
The Hacker Crackdown is a good history of the beginnings of internet law and disorder. The author, Bruce Sterling, is a science-fiction writer and expert in matters technological and futuristic.

Sterling relates the tale of the FBI and AT&T's attempt to turn a hacking into a much larger crime than it should have been. The book is well researched and presented in an easy to read, easy to understand format that requires no knowledge of the internet from the reader.

Highly recommended.
Troy Morrison
Jan 19, 2011 rated it liked it
A decent (non-fiction) book about the underground hacking/phreaking culture in the late 80s and early 90s. It makes a good attempt to tell the story of the culture but is not, in the end, as rich and intriguing as, for example, Steven Levy's *Hackers*. I'm glad I read it but it's slow at times and it did feel like a struggle to get through it.
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Bruce Sterling is an author, journalist, critic and a contributing editor of Wired magazine. Best known for his ten science fiction novels, he also writes short stories, book reviews, design criticism, opinion columns and introductions to books by authors ranging from Ernst Junger to Jules Verne. His non-fiction works include The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier ...more