Down to Navigation Controls

The Hacker Crackdown:
Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier

by Bruce Sterling

I've only met Bruce Sterling once, but you can tell a lot about a person from watching them operate even for a little while. Bruce is talkative, witty, and highly opinionated. He's also a good listener. He likes people, and he'll buy the beer if you have a good story to tell. That's probably one reason why The Hacker Crackdown is such a good book. Sterling lets people know he's interested in their stories, and like hackers, most people are natural braggarts. If given the opportunity, they'll honk their horns until their batteries die.

The Hacker Crackdown is divided into four sections. Each section represents a community involved with computer crime: "Crashing the System" (the country's 4000 phone companies), "The Digital Underground," "Law and Order," and "The Civil Libertarians." Sterling physically entered these circles - visiting computer cops, electronic communications rights activists, phreaks and hackers for face-to-face interviews. Sterling pays special attention to the hacker raids - Steve Jackson Games, Operation Sundevil, and the Phrack bust, since these were what originally piqued his interest.

A second reason the book succeeds is that Sterling possesses another skill besides his ability to loosen lips. He's quite a hacker himself - not in the sense of being a computer freak - he's a reality hacker, always testing established limits and concepts. When he went to Phoenix, Arizona for a Federal Computer Investigations Committee conference, he noticed that there were a lot of trees in the street full of ripe grapefruits and oranges. Walking under the trees were lots of homeless people, undoubtedly hungry ones. Putting two and two together, Sterling tried to eat one of the fruits and found it "unbearably bitter." Later, when he was told that he couldn't attend one of the conference meetings for security reasons, he decided to spend his free time by "trashing" a hotel office (Trashing is the term used by phreaks and criminal hackers when they go through the dumpsters of companies to find passwords, technical manuals, employee lists, glossaries, phone numbers, etc.) By trashing the hotel waste bin and retrieving a torn-up phone bill, a bank statement, and several drafts of a love letter, Sterling was able to reconstruct a wealth of information about a woman's personal and financial life. While plenty of armchair journalists would have been content to conduct phone interviews and make some trips to the library, it's Sterling's deep level of reality hacking that gives The Hacker Crackdown the ring of truth and leaves the reader with a sense of getting a big part of the whole picture.

(M. Frauenfelder)

The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier
Bruce Sterling
Bantam Books
$22.50 Hardcover edition,

352 pp

Here is the TEXT POPUP for The Hacker Crackdown:

A certain anarchical tinge deep in the American soul delights in causing confusion and pain to all bureaucracies, including technical ones.

- from The Hacker Crackdow


Navigation Controls

© 1998 The Computer Lab
Gareth Branwyn -

Go to Street Tech, Gar & Pete's Tech Review Site.