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Underground: Tales of hacking, madness, and obsession on the electronic frontier

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Here is the compelling true story of the computer underground and the bizarre lives and crimes of an elite group of young Australian hackers who took on the forces of the establishment

475 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1997

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About the author

Suelette Dreyfus

5 books11 followers
Suelette Dreyfus is a technology researcher, journalist, and writer. Her fields of research include information systems, digital security and privacy, the impact of technology on whistleblowing, health informatics and e-Education.

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5 stars
260 (41%)
4 stars
243 (39%)
3 stars
89 (14%)
2 stars
23 (3%)
1 star
7 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 61 reviews
Profile Image for Peter.
31 reviews6 followers
November 23, 2011
I found this one to be a very entertaining read.

Firstly, being one with a strong IT background I expected to quickly feel "at home". Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, I was very much hoping to "relive" my personal experiences with the "early" (inter)net - to be confirmed in my own perceptions if you will.

Then was time when you could still snoop around the net openly without second guesses and immediate fear of persecution - ultimately with a wish to simply learn as the driving force beind your doings.

With regards to the book, everything that Dreyfuss writes about appears authentic to me, online BBS, the "holy grail" themed search for secret bug mailling lists and the at times nearly friendly toying of Hackers and Admins with one another all seems familiar. The general idea of what actually makes a "hacking person" (contrary to a "cracker") is also conveyed clearly and should only serve to teach the reader to distinctly draw the line between the "good" and the "bad" hackers. Dreyfuss also focuses alot on the personal lives and inner struggles found in most of the youthful hackers featured in her book, which only serves to make the book more entertaining and believable. When a nationwide wanted for hackings teenager falls in love with a girl and goes through all the states of happiness on to heartsickness it never feels fake or uncinsere. After all, even hackers are only humans - the book brings that integral message across very nicely.

With that said, Underground is a fine factual novel that sheds some light on the early days of the net, when curiosity still ruled those people engaged with it. The novel is easy to read and does not overburden someone who is already slightly at home with computers and the technologies around them.
Profile Image for Jon.
19 reviews
December 14, 2014
2/5 - It was ok. I’m fascinated by stories like this, but the way that the stories were presented in the book resulted in a combination of perseverance and dread. The stories are overall entertaining and intriguing if you’re interested in history like this. Unfortunately, Dreyfus includes a lot of unnecessary information. I assume that Dreyfus included the additions to facilitate a better understanding of the characters. Unfortunately, on some of the characters the additional information does not add much to the psychological profile and makes reading a chore.

Part of this feeling of unnecessary information is probably due to the way that Dreyfus organized the material. Stories jump all over the place instead of flowing in a coherent manner leaving the reader with the feeling of “ummm, why am I reading about a different time period in this characters life all of a sudden? This isn’t a movie flashback.” Dreyfus was obviously attempting to pull in additional back story to provide some context for the behavior of the characters, but in the end I think it detracted from the multiple story threads.

In the end, great stories and material, but the writing style and organization did not facilitate an enjoyable reading experience.
Profile Image for Agne.
150 reviews4 followers
September 7, 2020
A unique glimpse into the early hacker culture of the 80s and 90s. It's good to have this recorded - the early internet and its curious pioneers.

"Now we look back to that time as a sort of Paradise Lost – the peacetime internet of incredible growth and innovation. The ideas we are now debating – such as freedom of information – sprang to life from this fertile ground."
Profile Image for Sagar Acharya.
113 reviews20 followers
November 13, 2019
A must book for nerds. A true account on Australian, British and US hackers.

It shows the earliest ways to abuse computers and law and how phreakers and hackers having amazing handles brought about mischief, havoc and how they were penalised in their respective laws.

"Byteman", damn what a handle! I laughed for about two minutes on this wordplay.

Many sides of hacking like social engineering (getting things done by talking in a way), limited access exploiting for extracting free calls around 1990, getting root access through dial connections in very powerful computers and exaggerated ways of police to get confessions out of hackers are elaborated so well.

These were times when hard disks were 20mb big and RAM was about 1mb for consumer computers and the universities had really poor network security systems.
Profile Image for Eric Phetteplace.
368 reviews65 followers
January 24, 2011
A chronicle of the early days of hacking in the 1990s, primarily focused on Australian hackers but with some British and American characters in there too. I guess I expected a little too much from this book as I was mainly interested in the technical side of things, which it does go into a little at parts but not enough for me. On the whole, though, it's just not well-written. Almost every narrative jumps around awkwardly as Dreyfus tries to fill in extraneous details she forgot to mention at the appropriate time. Read through the first chapter and you'll understand what I mean; all that surrounding detail about NASA was useless to me.
81 reviews1 follower
October 20, 2015
I love these glimpses into the minds of hackers and how everything worked before the Internet. Sharing, openness and then changes coming with new laws brought on by few "black sheep".

Some of these stories are unbelievable. Some are sad. Some are funny. I enjoyed all of them. Well done
311 reviews3 followers
January 22, 2020
A really good read about the hacker/phreaker scene in Australia around 1990. We follow a few young persons as they dig into phone and computer systems, what happens when they are caught and what happend after that. It's was interesting to read about the passion that drove them, but they all had quite sad stories as well.

The book feels authentic and does a good job balancing technical stuff with the characters social life.

The author's position is that breaking in to computer systems and snoop around isn't that serious a crime. It would be interesting to know where she stands now, some 20 years later.

I almost want to go and dust off my old VMS and SunOS 4 notes...
Profile Image for Wolfgang.
91 reviews2 followers
November 16, 2017
In den ersten Kapiteln tauchen in sehr kurzer Folge sehr viele neue Figuren auf, die kaum eingeführt werden. Das verwirrt etwas, und man verliert schnell den Überblick. Spätere Kapitel drehen sich meist nur noch um wenige Personen. Einige wenige Stellen in der Dokumentation sind recht langatmig, vieles ist aber wirklich spannend zu lesen, selbst wenn man schon eine Reihe anderes Material zum Thema "Anfangstage des Hackens" gelesen hat. Das Buch liest sich flüssig, die Übersetzung ist gelungen.
Profile Image for Rucio.
29 reviews1 follower
August 11, 2020
Many years since I last read it but it was intriguing at the time. I'd been on Melbourne BBS's around that time and caught snippets of what was going on. The book made sense of what I'd seen. At the time of first reading it Assange was not a name you knew so the latter revelations made the story even more amazing.

Perhaps it's dated now - I'll find out when I return to read it for a third time sometime soon.
Profile Image for Chris.
36 reviews
October 25, 2020
Julian Assange writes one of the Introductions, appears as one of the hackers and is mentioned briefly in a short passage on Wikileaks which appears to have been tacked onto the end of the book.

IMHO Assange should not have been given credit as the co-author. In my case, it was his name on the cover that persuaded me to buy the ebook in the first place...
Profile Image for Robin.
98 reviews2 followers
August 18, 2020
It is a gripping tale alright.
It is detailed and descriptive but in an effort to not choose sides or make a value judgement on the matter in context , it comes across as pointless in the end.

It had me invested but maybe my expectations were much higher.
12 reviews
January 28, 2021
Fabulous insight into the startings of the internet for consumers, the hacks around connectivity but also the sub-culture that developed. Inspiring to those who may already dabble with hacking at different levels and a lovely reminder of the complacency of companies when it comes to their security.
14 reviews3 followers
December 1, 2017
You might be interested to read this book, when you learn, that Mendax, one of the teenage hackers, is Julian Assange.
7 reviews
December 29, 2018
I loved every single page of that book! Will definitely read it again a few times🖤🖤
Profile Image for Tamp_kh.
798 reviews3 followers
January 19, 2020
Возможно, 20 лет назад это была книга, описывающая что-то революционно новое и необычное... Но вот сейчас - это уже глухая история. Хотя читать всё равно было интересно.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Liam.
7 reviews1 follower
April 2, 2020
Perhaps the best text on the early years of hacking. Of great social value to those even outside the computing and hacking world. Features a teenage Julian Assange.
17 reviews
December 14, 2021
Historias de varios hackers muy interesantes. Se hace muy divertido y entretenido de leer. Nada técnico.
Profile Image for shruthisagar.
20 reviews
June 22, 2022
The stuff of legend. A gripping, and racy account of the predecessor of the modern web, and all of it's quirky characters who seem they were written for the most ambitious cyberpunk movie ever made.
Profile Image for Robyn.
46 reviews5 followers
January 7, 2020
A fantastic look at hacking, phreaking and general technological tomfoolery before it was all done for profit, corporate espionage and military purposes. I really kept yearning to know more - Dreyfus includes enough little details to get you really hooked.
Profile Image for Alec Short.
3 reviews1 follower
August 18, 2021
If you are curious about the early days of the Internet along with the sub-culture of hacking then this is a wonderful book. Some technical details from the times of dial-up but also a reflection on the naivety of the organisations (even government ones) that used it. An immersive read and I challenge you to read it without any of the soundtrack from the film "Hackers" in your head.
859 reviews4 followers
December 14, 2020
Writing a book on hacking, computer security, and so forth is hard. When this was written, back in 1997, it was surely even harder, as the general audience this book is aimed at was presumably less familiar with the technical details of "cyberspace." Dreyfus manages to make it work and capture a snapshot of the feel behind some of the (primarily Australian) hackers she features in the book.

I read this from a PDF that's freely available on the book's website; it was presented in a fixed-width, typewriter-seeming font -- the sort of font that you'd use to read most electronic text from the 1990s, and eschewed much typography or layout (again, like you were reading an ASCII text from that period). This may have made it worse, because Dreyfus kept interrupting her own timeline to include anecdotes or brief timejumps about the subject of each chapter. But with no sign that the timejump occurred, the writing felt disjoint and bizarre, irrelevant details complicating what should be straightforward description of what happened.

I read the first 200 pages or so quickly, before it got to the chapter on Assange ("Mendax"). He apparently helped edit the text (he is listed as a contributor here on Goodreads); it was there that, whether it was simply seeing how the text glissed over attributes that more recent profiles of Assange have focused on, or wondering how much of this chapter has been glamorized, that I felt like it became a captive to the "hacker" view.

In the end, I finished but was left feeling that the book glossed past things, and the writing itself left me down. I probably wouldn't recommend it -- Michelle Slatalla's Masters of Deception was written at around the same time, and took a similarly fairly sympathetic view of its characters, but is much better written.
Profile Image for Patrick DiJusto.
Author 5 books60 followers
April 23, 2015
Pretty interesting book about the hacker subculture of the late 80s and early 90s -- in Australia. Yes, the smallest continent, a land that for a time had a _single_ T3 cable serving the entire nation, had a thriving hacker community. Who knew?

The stories are pretty much the same as every hacker story everywhere: a bunch of nerdy aspie teenage guys stay up late at night making their way through the local telephone company computers. From there they access universities, and from there they visit corporation mainframes and network clusters -- all for the simple joy of finding out how they work. As with all hacker stories, the general arc is the same: someone brags about the hacking they've done, the federal police investigate, the cops make several "burst through the door with stun grenades" arrests, someone turns state's evidence, some hackers go to jail. But as always, the story is in the details, and the details of this book make it an interesting bit of hacker lore.

One interesting tidbit -- the book was researched and fact checked by a young Australian journalist named Julian Assange, who pretty obviously knew a lot about hacking into computers to obtain information, I'm just saying.
3 reviews
November 20, 2012
Suelette Dreyfus has compiled an intriguingly honest account of Melbourne's underground hacking community. Julian Assange, editor in chief of the notorious whistle blower site WikiLeaks, assists in the telling of this eye-opening, detailed development of Australian hacking, his role in The International Subversives, and ultimately it's influence on international hacking. Lovers are crossed, families are betrayed or betray and the secret service have more than their fair share of the spotlight too. A great book, even for non-hackers or non-computer literate readers. Worth your while if you want to see what these 'bad' guys really do.
Profile Image for Susan.
428 reviews2 followers
June 21, 2011
The Kindle edition had wonky formatting, so be warned. Reading this made me pay closer attention to the Lulz Security attacks going on this year. I think it also made me more sympathetic? More pro-LulzSec? More interested in learning about the curiosities and drives that make up young hackers? Something. In any case, Suelette weaves a good story. Worth a read, even if you're not in the computer industry - there's very little technical jargon that's not explained, so no matter what, you'll be able to follow along.
Profile Image for Vasil Kolev.
1,051 reviews164 followers
February 22, 2011
This is just too short. There are a few cases in it, but there isn't really a whole picture (and I'm pretty sure there was enough material to paint it). The people described in the book are exemplary of the field, but that's really not enough.

The book is also a nice description of Julian Assange (aka Mendax), who also helped with it (so, the usual grain of salt applies).

It's interesting that some stuff still hasn't changed since then...
4 reviews
January 19, 2013
I have never gotten through a book faster than this. You might think a book about hacking would be boring, but the chapters are all well told. And the book today is more pertinent than ever, as hactivism has pushed its way into public discourse. Assange writes the forward, and is now public enemy number 1. You don't need to be a tech person to understand the book--a huge plus. Best part of all, it's free.
1 review
September 10, 2016
Well, lets see.

There are definite Assange undertones to this book. But it is also a tale told from the perspective of the hacking community in the 1980s.

The flavor, of the atmosphere and the taste of the character's naiveté definitely struck a chord when I read this in the late 90s. Although it's supposed to be a mostly true story, you can tell it contains some embellishments for the sake of the story, and the subject's privacy.

All in all a well rounded book.
Profile Image for Evilynn.
308 reviews38 followers
January 5, 2011
I'm a geek by trade, and the reason I stumbled into my line of work is that I've always been highly fascinated by communications networks. Underground deals with some of the early history of hacking, which might be an acquired taste, but for those of us interested in the field it's an interesting and engaging read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 61 reviews

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