When I was a little kid, there’s nothing I wanted more than to be a hacker. Of course, my 12-year-old brain’s perception of what it meant to be a hacker was horribly skewed by movies like The Lawnmower Man, Tron, and tabletop RPGs like Shadowrun. ( If only, right?)
Today is the release of what promises to be one of the most interesting books about hackers to come out since, well, probably ever. My own copy of Joseph Menn’s Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World is out for delivery, and what better way to kill time before it gets here than watching some never-before-seen footage of cDc at the height of its infamy.
The footage, over two decades old, follows Cult of the Dead Cow ‘s members at DefCon 7 as they prepare to present Back Orifice 2000, a remote access program (or “backdoor trojan,” depending on who you ask) that helped shine a blinding light on some of the worst inherent flaws in Microsoft’s Windows 98.
The group, whose hijinks are central to understanding hacker history, released the footage today to coincide with the release of Menn’s book. “Some literary critics are hailing the book as the greatest literary work since Infinite Jest, or the poems of Rod McKuen,” reads a cDc press release, tongue firmly in cheek.
“One of the things I admire most about cDc is that they did not stop when the issues became much harder,” Menn said recently in an OODA Loop interview. “It was incredibly challenging to figure out a way to get the Microsoft of 1998 to take security as seriously as it should have. And so the group went to extraordinary measures, creating a media circus with the over-the-top Def Con release of Back Orifice that demanded attention. When that failed to seal the deal, they came back the following year with Back Orifice 2000.”
“I would have preferred more cockfighting but the old footage is still pretty cool,” said cDc bandersnatch, Krass Katt, in a statement. “Everyone seems so young and lifelike. It was also fun seeing our old pals (who have since passed away) THE NIGHTSTALKER, a former CIA contractor, and Tequila Willy, who ran for president a few times before that Beto guy. Plus it’s kind of poetic we’re releasing this on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. We really enjoyed being a pain in China’s ass with BO2K.”
The group is-in case you didn’t already know-known for having partnered in the 1990s with Chinese hacktivists to counter the People’s Republic of China and its obsession with online censorship. (Although, later, the group’s foreign minister, Oxblood Ruffin, wrote that much of the saga was overhyped, and that its true purpose was to help exfiltrate democracy activists from the country.)
More recently, cDc has come to once again occupy the pages of august newspapers like the New York Times thanks to its association with presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, a member of the group in his teens under the handle, I shit you not, Psychedelic Warlord.
According to Menn, more than a dozen members of the group agreed to be interviewed for his book, which should be arriving at my doorstep any moment. Ben Rothke, a professional reviewer of books on security, wrote Friday: “When you have a fascinating story and a great storyteller, you know the output is going to be an engaging read, and Menn doesn’t disappoint here.”
You can pick up a copy on Amazon. Or don’t. Whatever.