Cult of the Dead Cow by Joseph Menn

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 itself is a major feat considering the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc) remains a highly secretive organization. While some of the members have been open about their experiences, including presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, others have preferred the anonymity an online persona provides (under secure circumstances, of course). So Menn does deserve credit for pulling plenty of materials, including interviews with members, into a compelling, often entertaining, and somewhat perplexing narrative.

And what a story. Putting aside the often dubious legality of the cDc’s actions, their story starts with a group of bored teens in Texas during the mid-1980s and propels into a present where several members are professionals, working on cybersecurity— some in the Silicon Valley private sector and others for government entities. The path there is long and complex, but Menn successfully cultivates this story by sliding around tech-heavy jargon and focusing instead on the human idea of maturity— a gradual online process for the cDc.

These moments click, from the Black Orifice Microsoft debacle in the ‘90s to frustrations with WikiLeaks during the 2016 election, the group showcases obvious growth and an enriched viewpoint. With such a solid throughline, ultimately, Menn has crafted an interesting examination of how hacking has progressed in its use for good.

Title: Cult of the Dead Cow
Author: Joseph Menn
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Publication Date: June 04, 2019
Classification: Nonfiction, Science & Technology

Menn’s Twitter | Publisher’s Page | Goodreads

Note: I received a free ARC of this book through Edelweiss.


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