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Fancy Bear Goes Phishing

The Dark History of the Information Age, in Five Extraordinary Hacks

Scott J. Shapiro


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ISBN10: 1250335671
ISBN13: 9781250335678

Trade Paperback

432 Pages



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It’s a signal paradox of our times that we live in an information society but do not know how it works. And without understanding how our information is stored, used, and protected, we are vulnerable to having it exploited. In Fancy Bear Goes Phishing, Scott J. Shapiro draws on his popular Yale University class about hacking to expose the secrets of the digital age. With lucidity and wit, he establishes that cybercrime has less to do with defective programming than with the faulty wiring of our psyches and society. And because hacking is a human-interest story, he tells the fascinating tales of perpetrators, including Robert Morris Jr., the graduate student who accidentally crashed the internet in the 1980s, and the Bulgarian “Dark Avenger,” who invented the first mutating computer-virus engine. We also meet a sixteen-year-old from South Boston who took control of Paris Hilton’s cell phone, the Russian intelligence officers who sought to take control of a US election, and others.

In telling their stories, Shapiro exposes the hackers’ tool kits and gives fresh answers to vital questions: Why is the internet so vulnerable? What can we do in response? Combining the philosophical adventure of Gödel, Escher, Bach with dramatic true-crime narrative, the result is a lively and original account of the future of hacking, espionage, and war, and of how to live in an era of cybercrime.


Praise for Fancy Bear Goes Phishing

"Gripping . . . Fancy Bear Goes Phishing offers level-headed suggestions to reduce cybercrime, decrease cyber-espionage and mitigate the risks of cyberwar, arguing that we need to move beyond an obsession with technical fixes and focus instead on the outdated and vulnerable upcode that shapes the shoddy downcode we live with now."—Richard Lea, The Wall Street Journal

"[Shapiro] masterfully blends consideration of two sorts of code, software and legal . . . His narrative zips between technical explanations, legal reasoning and the ideas of thinkers including René Descartes and Alan Turing . . . [Shapiro] succeeds in making the [hacking] intelligible to non-specialist readers."The Economist

"Scott Shapiro is a pretty rare bird—an eminent legal scholar who is also a geek . . . [He] manages to carve a readable path through the conceptual undergrowth . . . [Fancy Bear Goes Phishing is] an impressive achievement . . . [An] absorbing tour of cyberspace’s netherworld."—John Naughton, The Guardian

"Scott Shapiro is a pretty rare bird—an eminent legal scholar who is also a geek . . . [He] manages to carve a readable path through the conceptual undergrowth . . . [Fancy Bear Goes Phishing is] an impressive achievement . . . [An] absorbing tour of cyberspace’s netherworld." —John Naughton, The Observer

"This scintillating book [. . . ] manages to hack the reader . . . [Fancy Bear Goes Phishing] is a profound work on the idea of technology . . . If you think that books involving discussions of law must be boring, then Shapiro is a good antidote since he is a very humanist and humane writer . . . Erudite, witty, and arch."—Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman

“Like Virgil guiding Dante through the bowels of a medieval Renaissance Hell, Scott J. Shapiro steers readers of Fancy Bear Goes Phishing through . . . the feral realm of cyberhacking . . . [Readers] will walk away with enhanced insight into our disquieting digital environment . . . a wise book.”—Howard Schneider, The Progressive

"The question of trust is increasingly central to computing, and in turn to our world at large. Fancy Bear Goes Phishing offers a whirlwind history of cybersecurity and its many open problems that makes for unsettling, absolutely riveting, and—for better or worse—necessary reading."—Brian Christian, author of Algorithms to Live By and The Alignment Problem

"Fancy Bear Goes Phishing is an essential book about high-tech crime: lively, sometimes funny, readable, and accessible. Shapiro highlights the human side of hacking and computer crime, and the deep relevance of software to our lives."Bruce Schneier, author of A Hacker's Mind: How the Powerful Bend Society's Rules and How to Bend them Back

"Scott Shapiro's Fancy Bear Goes Phishing fills a critical hole in cybersecurity history, providing an engaging read that explains just why the internet is as vulnerable as it is. Accessible for regular readers, yet still fun for experts, this delightful book expertly traces the challenge of securing our digital lives and how the optimism of the internet's early pioneers has resulted in an online world today threatened by spies, criminals, and over-eager teen hackers."—Garrett Graff, co-author of The Dawn of the Code War

“This is an engrossing read . . . An authoritative, disturbing examination of hacking, cybercrime and techno-espionage.”Kirkus Reviews

"Ingenious coding, buggy software, and gullibility take the spotlight in this colorful retrospective of hacking . . . Shapiro’s snappy prose manages the extraordinary feat of describing hackers’ intricate coding tactics and the flaws they exploit in a way that is accessible and captivating even to readers who don’t know Python from JavaScript. The result is a fascinating look at the anarchic side of cyberspace."Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads


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When Robert Morris Jr. released his worm at 8:00 p.m., he had no idea that he might have committed a crime. His concern that night was backlash from fellow geeks: many UNIX administrators would be furious when...

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