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(The following book review appeared in Network World magazine's May 25, 1998 issue.)

Network Administrator Alert! So You Wanna Be A Hacker?

By Winn Schwartau

"How do you break into a computer?"
"How can I break into and write graffiti on a Web site?"
"How can I learn to be a hacker?"

Network administrators, security professionals, corporate management, the Department of Defense - to name a few, are actively attempting to defend their Internet connections, their Intranets, their corporate assets and indeed their jobs against an increasingly hostile Cyberspace. The neighborhood is clearly getting worse by the minute.

And the media hasn't helped. Labeling everyone with access to a keyboard and an attitude as a "hacker," the term has developed incredibly pejorative connotations. "If he's a hacker, he must be bad." "Oh, God! It's a hacker, watch out." "Hackers are criminal by nature." Well, thank you very much John Markoff et al, for rip-roaring headlines that have forever misinformed America.

What is the best hack you've ever seen? (Think now, pause. Stop reading, and really think before proceeding. What is the best hack you've ever seen?) The answer is from the mega-hit movie, Apollo XIII. Remember the scene at NASA, and a manager spills a box of assorted parts onto a table and says to a group of engineers: "This is all they have up there. Figure out how to save their lives."

First of all, hackers are not bad. Criminals are bad. Criminal hacking is bad. Hacking is not bad. And that is the recurring theme in Carolyn Meinel's thoroughly enjoyable, highly entertaining and educational new book, "The Happy Hacker: A Guide to (Mostly) Harmless Hacking."

The Happy Hacker will answer hundreds of those unanswered questions that network administrators have, like, "exactly how do those %@*&#^ hackers break into my computers?" Meinel provides dozens of step by step methods on exactly how it's done; from telnet to port surfing to using a shell account.

In her folksy conversational manner (she's from New Mexico), she starts off by teaching the reader how terribly insecure a Windows95 box is, and walks us through a series of super-simple way to hack right into your corporate network. Considering that the vast majority of computer crimes and hacks occur from within a company's network, these introductory parts of The Happy Hacker are worth the price of the book alone. These are the weaknesses that Microsoft will never tell you about, wishes would just go away and provide one of the most compelling reason to ignore Win95, forget about Win98 and rush right out and buy a copy of the infinitely more secure NT.

Now, before you rant and rave about "Hackers writing a book!", Meinel is a computer scientist, a mother of four, and as she puts it "an old lady" who remembers her forties. While she provides a whole slew of hacks that work, especially on those machines "with poor defenses," there are no technical revelations of scurrilous Clinton-level scandal. These are the basics of hacking, and after a read of this highly worthwhile book, I realized that every security and network administrator should have this on their shelf.

Far from encouraging teenage wannabes from hacking away at your front door, the book is chock full of "You Can Get Punched In the Nose, Fired and Busted Warnings" and "You Can Go To Jail Warnings." Many of the tricks and techniques throughout The Happy Hacker are clearly illegal, immoral and unethical. The point that Meinel makes over and over is that "hacking your own equipment is healthy and good. Hacking a box or network with permission is good. Any other kind of hacking will land you in jail."

The Happy Hacker has something for everyone. It is a moderately technical book, with advice for the Newbie sprinkled throughout, as well as offering Evil Genius Tips for the more advanced readers.

Her goals are admirable, even though she has been railed by the hacker community and several legitimate publishers refused to print her tome. She advocates the ethical use of technology, legal hacking where the results are beneficial and conducted with permission - and totally decries illegal activities of any kind.

Her sections on spoofed email will be a God-send to the network administrator trying to train staff in the details of how hackers work their so-called magic. The dangers of open ports and shell-based telnet are driven home in the clearly written section on How To Map the Internet.

As Denial of Service attacks become more prevalent, Meinel provides the basics of why and how they work, plus the hard facts on what can and what cannot be done about them. She gives coherent advice on how to protect yourself against spamming, email bombs and other words of wisdom. Her participation in a number of hacker wars has given Meinel an insider's look at the psyche and the psychosis of the Undernet (Underground Internet), lamerz, d00dz, wannabes, 3lit3 haxors and host of the techno-denizens you probably don't want your daughter dating. (Most hackers are of the male of the species.)

While the book needed a good editor, (typos, math errors from time to time, inconsistent formatting; but what the heck: the tiny publisher, American Eagle, also published the controversial Virus Handbooks and similar works) my primary criticism is a compliment. Meinel includes so many URLs for reference, in every chapter, now I have to spend a lot time to organize them. I wish she had put them all into a properly annotated on-line bibliography.

So, network admin folks, managers and bosses on high: if you've ever wanted to know exactly how systems are broken into, this is the book for you. It's easy going style and value-packed content puts it on my Top 10 list of Essential Security reading List.
Buy the Happy Hacker book now!

For advanced
hacker studies,
read Carolyn's

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