HackThePlanet – This Machine Kills Secrets

This Machine Kills Secrets

Twenty years ago in the United States, our favourite film and inspiration for our site design and name was released. To celebrate Hackers we are looking at all our hacking related articles. Steve Taylor-Bryant takes on Andy Greenberg’s book This Machine Kills Secrets…

There are many books on Hacktivism and WikiLeaks on the market and most of them are very good, in fact some of them are reviewed on this very site but what Andy Greenberg has managed to achieve with This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information is an in depth look at not only Assange but the world's relationship with secrecy. What makes this book different is, much like the freedom of information contained within, it is done in an accessible way.

Greenberg is a journalist of some repute and the one advantage that this level of fame can bring is opening doors. Julian Assange is, of course, interviewed but that is nothing new in these types of tech-journo books, as Assange’s openness and fame are a driving force for many and he gets involved even from his self-imposed exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy. But Greenberg also gets Daniel Domscheit-Berg, Assange’s right hand man at the start of WikiLeaks, and the never before interviewed Architect, the engineer that made WikiLeaks possible. The sections on WikiLeaks reveal nothing new if you have already followed the story of these extraordinary people, but it delves beyond the personalities and into the socio-political reasoning for leaking, whistleblowing and the entire anti-Big Brother state of affairs. WikiLeaks made ripples in the code when it first appeared and I understand those people who think it was new, but the phenomenon of whistleblowing and leaking is not new. What the likes of Assange et al did was made it realistic in a technical world to get information out.

The technical world sections of the book are what makes Greenberg’s writing stand up against other titles as he gets into the nitty gritty of the how’s as well of the why’s, but does it in a way that even the most technophobe of readers could understand without leaving the narrative feeling dumbed down in any way. The history of the software and technology is covered really well and Salt Hashing,  Onion Routing and the most important piece of software, Tor, all get explained, with the history of Tor coming from research funded by the United States Navy highlighting a particularly ironic fact that today’s whistle blowers are using the government’s own technology against them. The most enjoyable historical parts for me were the crypto-wars sections that explain the governments of the world’s battles to keep their encryption a secret as well as unbreakable. Obviously no matter what government agencies state about their encryption, facts have proved that they lost this war in massively embarrassing fashion.

From Ellsberg and The Pentagon Papers, the birth of WikiLeaks, to Anonymous and the HBGary hack, through to Chelsea Manning, This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information, is a stunning look at our modern world's history, politics and eternal battles between what is right and what is necessary. Students of the modern era will lap up the wealth of information contained within the pages, conspiracy theorists will have a field day with their ‘I told you so’ moments, those who like an industrial thriller will savour the pacing and almost fictionality of the piece but, most of all, this is proof in a much ridiculed media that there are still some journalists that know how to report a story, know how to convey a message, and know what needs to be reported.

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