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The Best of 2600
A Hacker Odyssey

A thick book of articles and history from one of the best known (and longest running) hacker magazines.

By: Staff

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2600 was one of those magazines you  picked up and wondered, "you can print this stuff?" -- then paid  for it in cash. Back in the late '90s when I came across this small  19x20cm magazine in the World Biggest Book Store, down near  Yonge and Dundas (pre-"Square" and not the best area of Toronto in  those days) 2600 was an interesting mix of ideas, code listings and assorted bits of knowledge that the subjects of the stories probably  hoped would remain generally unknown. Compared to the stapled  pamphlet-sized magazine, this is a big hard-cover book, almost 6cm thick and probably weighing half a kilo. This tome is broken into three  sections, each covering a decade.

One  thing that I was  surprised to learn was Goldstein, besides it not being his real name (I fact I might have suspected, but just didn't remember enough Orwell) was that Eric Corley had no formal computer education, which seems to  be a testament to the idea that hacking is  more about a desire to figure things out than than computers per  say. Instead it could be said that hackers just people looking for things to figure out and computer networks happen to be currently the biggest challenge  around today, just as the phone systems where back in the 1980s. And  the stories are not limited to computers either, mixed in with the  tales (occasionally tall) are stories about all kinds of things from  wiretapping to combination locks that just aren't half as secure as  marketed to pay-phone oddities.

The book covers then the period of the 1980s to the mid-2000s. The 1980s  section sees the break-up of the Bell phone system in the U.S. and the arrival of the personal computer, the 1990s sees hackers capture the imagination of Hollywood and the 2000s sees the personal computer  become another part of modern society.

The hacking ethos goes back many years, back to the 1960s if one really  looks for the first uses of the term. So the material in the chapter "The Hacker Philosophy" still resonates, even if most of the technical  information is dated. The first section has a fair number of stories on  the phone system and early personal computers. Some people have called  this period the golden age of hacking; it's the period covering the  break-up of the U.S.  phone monopoly, the birth of the personal computer and the first hacker  raids. So it makes sense that this is when the hacker ethos was formed.

The  second section covers the 1990s which is characterized as when the  media and Hollywood discovered the computers, viruses and hackers. The  decade saw films like 1995's Hackers (on which Goldstein acted as a  technical consultant) and Sneakers (1992). It also continues to follow the  changes in phone systems that made many of the discoveries in the 1980s  obsolete. In "More Hacker Stories and Adventures" there is coverage of  Kevin Mitnick and early computer viruses. The second section then can  be thought of as the mainstreaming of computers when they emerged into  popular culture.

The  last section then looks at the 2000s when computers had become part of  the fabric of society. The final section "2000 and Beyond" there is coverage of cracking DVDs, the "deCSS" program and cellular  communications. This chapter seems a fitting conclusion; computers have  become part of the fabric of society and digital is just another kind  of property. So in a way its a natural progression as the exotic and  new become part of the society.

Reading  this book reminded me what made computer fun originally. Each section  covers at a decade as seen by the writers of 2600. The 1980s as the  birth of the modern hacker, the 1990s as the middle decade when the  media discovered hackers, and the 2000s when many of the topics covered  in earlier chapters matured. Much of the technical material in the fist  two sections might seem dated, but the spirit is still there. One  conclusion readers might get reading this book is the rather dismal,  if predictable, conclusion that  those who don't understand technology fear those who do; but this is  countered by the examples of how regular people in a democratic society  can overcome these problems if they are  willing to put effort into questioning why something is the  way it is. It's this lesson that readers should take from this book.

Links:

2600 Magazine
Toronto 2600 meetings
2600 meetings around the world
Wikipedia page on 2600

[asa]0470294191[/asa]

Date published: 16-Oct-2008

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