Underground (1997) by Suelette Dreyfus (with help from Julian Assange) is a book that is freely available for download that is about some people in the Australian hacking scene and others in the US and UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is of particular interest now because it was written with Julian Assange’s help and includes quite a bit about him as the hacker known as Mendax.

The book details the exploits of Phoenix, Electron in Melbourne, Gandalf and Pad in the UK and Par from the US. The hackers are all young, clever and enjoyed exploring various systems by exploiting poor security.

It’s worth noting that the hackers all appear to find exploits that others have found rather than reading source code to find the weaknesses themselves, although this may also have been the case on some occasions.It’s also amazing to realise that as late as the 1990s many systems allowed username/password combinations that were the same, admin accounts with default passwords and passwords that were just dictionary words. The hackers described in the book arguably did computer a great favour by alerting people to security before more malicious hackers went in and exploited the weaknesses for financial gain. The book is also mostly about the pre-internet era which makes it all seem somewhat quaint.

As  a freely downloadable book it’s a fascinating read about a subject that often gets poor, uniformed coverage. It’s well worth a read.


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