At Large: The Strange
Case of the World's Biggest Internet Invasion
Reviewed by Kevin Hunt
After finishing At Large I was left with a feeling similar to the one I felt walking out of the theater after watching "Jaws" twenty years ago--a dread of something menacing lurking beneath the surface. Just as "Jaws" made you question whether you wanted to go surfing again, At Large will make you think twice before you log on to the Internet--you'll think about who's lurking beneath the surface with the skills to mess with your bank's financial records, or seize your passwords, or steal credit card information. And if you're doing business over the Net, the book will make you think even harder.
While At Large only tangentially addresses issues of privacy in the information age, it has everything to do with the related issue of network security. Authors David Freedman and Charles Mann document the story of Matt Singer, a reclusive, nearly dysfunctional but benign teenager obsessed with breaking into the computers of universities, banks, federal agencies, and even military facilities in 1991- 92. In telling Singer's talke, the authors provide a detailed and personal glimpse into the work of various system administrators and federal agents across the country as well as the cracker community that lurks beneath the surface of the Net.
Unfortunately while the book is an interesting read, and raises serious issues about network security at a time when critical information is being passed over various computer networks, the authors have chosen a new journalism, docudrama style of writing that makes you wonder how credible the story they tell is and how much creative license they've taken in order to turn a fairly mundane story of a misguided computer geek into a techno-thriller.
In the end, while the Singer story is a concrete (if somewhat sensationalized) example of how the computer underground operates, the value of the book lies in the epilogue, which details the current state of computer security, the sophistication of cracker tools, and the state of preparedness of law enforcement agencies responsible for computer crimes. As such, it sounds a wakeup call for anyone using the Internet.
Kevin Hunt is book review editor of CMC Magazine.
Copyright © 1997 by Kevin Hunt. All Rights Reserved.