Book Review of Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell

Exploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma BellExploding the Phone: The Untold Story of the Teenagers and Outlaws Who Hacked Ma Bell by Phil Lapsley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

God, this takes me back. I remember Captain Crunch, phreaking, warez, War Games, my C64 (which I got in Fall 1982), BBS’s, Usenet, CdC, 2600, etc., like it was yesterday. I really miss those days, to be honest. Hey, when you had “Crackerjack” and related, you were going places! While technically it can be argued that, yes, there had always been hacking and while hackers were considered “bad” by the authorities (who generally knew nothing then except whatever companies told them regarding absurd sums of money they claimed they lost due to theft of proprietary info, so if memory serves me [and I could have the wrong company, but the example of what happened is what’s important], when someone broke into DEC’s system and allegedly stole their system source code, while I don’t remember actual figures, the feds didn’t care too much — until they were told the company had lost tons of cash [tens of millions? more?] which was bullshit because the alleged stolen code wasn’t sold nor did anyone financially profit — they didn’t lose a fucking dime!). Seems to me the government was just a tad overzealous in its treatment and prosecution of many young hackers (Mitnick? Years in solitary? Seriously? Because Ferris Bueller scared the shit out of Reagan when he watched War Games? — true story…) and if people in law enforcement could have only looked ahead a decade or so to see what the term and concept of “hacker” and “hacking” would come to mean, such would basically make the old school hackers who were persecuted so brutally by the feds look like choirboys — not far off when you consider 95%+ of the kids doing it back then weren’t in it to make a profit or attack damn countries. They just wanted access to information they weren’t supposed to have (with the hacker ethos that information should be free), but really for learning and bragging purposes, not to abuse innocent people and make a killing off them by being the criminals of today (and now meriting legit fear from law enforcement) as opposed to the so-called “criminals” or “outlaws” of those days, as described in this book’s title. I would bet the feds may actually look back on those years and wish that contemporary hackers would magically revert to old school phreakers and hackers; I think they’d be darn glad to have them instead of what we now have. Maybe they wouldn’t have been such assholes in prosecuting a bunch of curious kids…? I mean really, back in the 1980s, who in the world could have truly pictured and predicted things such as cyber espionage and cyber warfare? There was a lot of nasty stuff going on that one could find in certain Usenet newsgroups but that had little to do with hacking (okay, nothing) and more to do with criminal human nature and appalling perversions.

I know I actually didn’t say too much about this book but instead I tried to describe some of the things that went on back then while contrasting them to some of today’s more serious antics — concisely. If you’re old like me, you might wax nostalgic to read this and remember life then and if you’re not old enough to have been around then, this book — and similar ones — may initially seem outdated to some, but like this book, they’re good tales, often great thrillers, and well worth the time to read. Recommended!