Breaking And Entering: The Extraordinary Story of a Hac… (2024)

Sean Murray

5 reviews

April 1, 2019

Half the book is spent detailing this person's boring life at MIT and the other half about how they weren't respected at the job they worked at even though she was supposedly really good at it. In the end she got fired and went on to start her own company wherein she would wildly undercharge for the value of her work. Then the book ends. I kept waiting for the big conflict in the book and final ending but neither ever came.

I don't know what the point of this book is other than I guess to put in your mind that everyone is vulnerable to hacking.

Danielle Tremblay

Author81 books119 followers

September 19, 2018

In the "Age of Big Data" when everybody and their brother (Big Brother?) track our every move, it's easy to become obsessed with data security: personal, industrial and Governmental. And are the Anonymous and other secret groups of hackers what really threaten most our data? And in this era of counterterrorism, should we let our government expand the surveillance powers of intelligence agencies over individuals and groups?

This book tells simultaneously two stories: the hacktivism of the last 20 years and the personal history of Alien, a female hacker who began her « career » when she was just a teenager. But these two stories interweave since we discover the Big Data world through Alien's eyes.

Even if you're not a geek, don't worry, you’ll understand everything. It can be disturbing for some of us to discover everything that some computer geniuses are capable of though. And if you're a young computer geek, you'll get an overview of what you are getting into.

Mr Smith seems to be very good at writing on sensitive and fashionable topics such as health, environment, local agriculture, urban gardening, etc.

Fans of non-fiction stories that read like novels, here is your next to-read book. If you liked Mr Robot, you'll love this story. If you like spy or conspiracy stories, you should like it a lot too.

So I give it 4½ stars. The removed half star was because I found some sections a bit... tedious. The story drags a little. But maybe it was because they were about things I already knew.

Thanks to the author, the publisher and Netgalley for providing me a digital copy of this book before publication.

    activisme en-ai-un espionnage

Chris

2 reviews

February 2, 2019

Hard to really distinguish if this is actually nonfiction. It read like fiction but is so lacking in substance and follow through that I found my way more than 75% of the way through, wondering where this story was going? I often thought “am I just reading through someone’s perfectly normal career progression through a fringe career?” Lots of people find something they are interested in while attending college and stumble their way through life trying to make that interest a fruitful career. The only thing intriguing is the career subject matter in this book.

lojislav

158 reviews3 followers

March 6, 2019

Nothing in the book is outside the realm of the possible if you’ve worked in physical, network, or app penetration testing. Likewise, nothing is really that extraordinary either. I really struggled writing this review; if this was billed as a novel with great resourcing, it would have been a solid 3.5/4. But as it stands, being billed as reallife exploits, with way too much detail to be simply memory and weird details stuck in, it just felt like someone’s fanfic of a pentester’s life.

Allison

144 reviews1 follower

June 18, 2019

Just couldn't get over the novelistic writing style and the focus on Alien's boyfriends and clothing choices over her actual hacking work. Too much detail had to have been invented, and it was often painfully obvious that this was written by a dude. 2.5/5

Raj Agrawal

173 reviews17 followers

February 14, 2019

Glancing looks at cyber-hacker life. Mostly smut. No recommendation.

John Fredrickson

662 reviews20 followers

February 7, 2019

This is a good story, and is easily and quickly read. The presumably true story is of a female MIT student who participates in the hacker culture of MIT, then over considerable time develops into a business woman whose specialty is hacking as a white hat for hire.

The first half of the book is the most interesting, as it brings the reader into a very curious college culture of drugs and rule-breaking. The middle of the book explores the development of the white hat culture, which is also pretty engaging. Some of the featured hacking assignments call out the many different business/medical contexts in which the hacking of computers exposes us all to great risk. Once one gets to the final chapters, the reading gets quite a bit drier as the story moves on to the protagonist's personal changes inherent in becoming a mother and a business woman.

    bio-memoir computing cultural

Audrey (Warped Shelves)

749 reviews52 followers

September 10, 2019

I’m not typically one for nonfiction—especially biographies—but I’ve been trying to grow up a little and read more big kid books lately; also to expand my reading range. This one I stumbled across at the library and picked up on a whim, and man was it a rush to read!

I want to point out real quick that if you are looking to read about stealthy, high-risk, super 1337-haxxor dark web stuff, you should look elsewhere. This is (almost) entirely legal, and “hacking” is defined in this book in a way different from how you will probably think of it (see previous sentence). This is glorified computer programming.

I don’t intend to come across negative here. I really did find Alien’s story fascinating. Jeremy N. Smith does a great job setting the scene and gripping the reader, putting up the spotlight to let Alien’s story shine. Every so often I’d just sit back and let it sink in that Alien is a real person. She did all this stuff! How badass! I can’t even dream of being that cool and independent.

A lot of times, I must admit, the story drug slowly by. I kept with it because, as I said, Alien is a badass chick and I wanted to know her entire story, but sometimes my eyes kind of glazed over.

In the end, I am glad I read Alien’s story and I hope someday my future children will be as epically cool and biography-worthy as she is. There’s no hope for me to be lol

March 18, 2019

My hundred-page rule is that life is too short to waste time reading books that I don't enjoy. Sadly, Breaking and Entering did not pass my rule. In fact, I had pretty much figured out by Page 75 that I wasn't going to finish the book, but I thought I needed to give the book the chance. Believe me, those last 25 pages were the longest pages of my life.

I thought the book would be about Alien, the hacker's work in cybersecurity. I understand author Jeremy Smith wanted to show us everything leading up to her work in cybersecurity, but did he really need to spend the first 100 pages detailing her entire experience at MIT?

I found the MIT stuff pretty boring. It was nice to learn a little about MIT as an institution, but I did not need 100 pages about it.

On page 101, Smith takes Alien to Los Alamos for her first post-college job. This was the point at which I stopped reading, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the next 100 pages will be spent on Los Alamos.

As a former publisher and editor, I always used to tell my writers to start the story as late as possible. Smith could definitely benefit from this suggestion.

I feel he should have started the book with Alien working on cybersecurity, and then tossing in an occasional tidbit about her experiences at MIT and Los Alamos- provided they have relevance to the part of the story that is being told.

I also didn't like Alien. She was self-centered and sometimes just plain stupid- which is typical of college students. I just don't feel that part of her persona needed to be analyzed in such detail.

So for me, this book was a bust. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Thank you to Amazon Vine aand Houghton Miflin for providing me with a complimentary Advanced Review Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

    non-fiction vine

Brian

923 reviews3 followers

January 19, 2019

Breaking and Entering tells the story of a hacker known by her call sign from MIT Alien. This book follows Alien as she finds her place amongst MIT and the hacking community there (note at the time she was at MIT hacking was not limited to a computer) and eventually after several tragedies befall her hacking friends finds her place in IT and at Los Alamos. Through a series of events she finds herself working in a hacking field which includes both computer hacking and physical penetration. Her specialty will become the soft psychological hacks which take computer skills and a working knowledge of psychology. The male dominance of the tech industry (particularly in the hacking world) is on full display here. Smith makes this an engaging and interesting read as you can’t wait to find out what is going to happen next. I found myself enjoying the book despite the numerous law breaking occurring throughout it and found Alien to be a very sympathetic character in the end. Not sure I can even classify who this book would be a good read for but as someone in the tech industry I found it quirky, fun and entertaining.

    business-technology

Melissa

383 reviews7 followers

April 18, 2020

What really sucks about this read is that I loooooove the subject and the fact that this centers on a female hacker is so cool. So yay!

But so much of the story conveyed was sooooo boring. I wanted some of her background. But I didn't need to spelunk with her through MIT for as long as we did. I wanted to know some of the technical aspects of her work, but not that much.

To be fair some of my reaction is that my expectations and the fantasy I project around "hacker culture" was thrust up against what is probably more the reality. Less Matrix movie and more corporate security.

But I admire Alien very much for building an empire, leading in a male-dominated field and for having the family she desired. Brava! It also opened my eyes to how vulnerable how information is and the idea of protection is really a delusion.

Never desired an apple watch or a "smart" home device. Now I feel really good about not having any of that!

Cynthia Rennolds

89 reviews3 followers

April 16, 2019

Interesting and enlightening book

“Elizabeth Tessman’s” story of her years at MIT and the next 20 years as a White Hat computer hacker are fascinating and compelling. Her exploits are interesting and give insight into the hacker mentality. This book also reveals the lack of security we each face in our own lives. Whether you are technical or not this is an interesting book and worth reading.

Gary

4 reviews

March 2, 2019

If you are already working in the security field, you will probably not enjoy this book. I could not even get through the first chapter. I really wanted this to be a good book and with a single sentence I could tell this wasn’t going to be for me.

I think this book would be more enjoyable for someone in their teens who is interested in learning about working in computer security.

Charles

216 reviews19 followers

September 2, 2019

Poorly Written and Unenlightening

This seems to be written by an author without deep understanding of the way hackers use their skill with code to break into databases. Or perhaps author Jeremy Smith simply assumes that readers do not have the interest or patience to learn about anything technical.

My main takeaways in the first third of the book were that:
1) The lengthy descriptions of physically breaking and entering into MIT passageways and the use of drugs among the protagonist’s friends became tedious. Those at MIT charged with recruiting the best students will cringe at the description of student life. And my guess is that this subculture, if it existed, was not typical at MIT. To be fair, the author does not claim that it was or is today.
2) If you have a lot of friends who take dangerous drugs you will in due course have a lot of dead friends.

Pushing on, and increasingly relying on my speed reading skills, I found the inclusion of a lot of superficial detail. I’m not sure whether author Smith assumed that such detail, however irrelevant to telling the story, would somehow provide credibility to the narrative, or whether he merely needed to pad the book to reach a minimum required number of pages. But I really didn’t need to know how “Alien”, Sherri Davidoff, was dressed, how she wore her hair, what drugs she had experimented with, who she slept with, or what kind of notebook she used to project “professionalism” once she started a business.

As a typical example of needless padding, Smith lists all the expensive hotels in Las Vegas that Alien could have checked into before telling readers that she checked into a cheap one.

One area handled pretty well: Some of the telephone techniques used by Black (or in this case White) hats to assume the identity of a legitimate IT professional within the target’s company. With skill, these hackers persuade the unwitting to click on e-mails that contain viruses or unlock access to company data bases. At an extreme, they may be able to enter a building and install malware, spyware or carry off computer hardware itself.

This part is a cautionary tale to be on guard if we get an unsolicited phone call in our professional or personal life seeking to “help” us with a computer problem.

But there was little explanation of the cyber side of hacking, such as the use of code vulnerabilities alone to break in to computer networks. A couple of places in the book, we are given little bits of code to try to establish, again, the “credibility” of the story. When code is provided as an example, there is no context or explanation to help the reader understand this aspect of computer hacking. I suspect this “code war” is far more significant as a vulnerability than telephone deceptions. It is also unclear whether Ms. Davidoff’s small firm, which must be the biggest beneficiary of this book, is particularly adept at identifying and helping to patch such vulnerabilities. Her NBC interview focused on the telephone game.

Overall, the book was a disappointment.

Jim Crocker

211 reviews26 followers

April 25, 2019

This story of modern-day hacking and cyber security begins with the life of a young student from MIT called "ALIEN" and follows her development into a preeminent "penetration tester." Essentially, a company hires her to "test" all of their security systems -- both cyber and walk-in / walk-out. ALIEN is like a ghost walking through walls. It's an amazing story.

Now it turns out that both author Jeremy N. Smith and ALIEN live right where I do in Missoula, Montana. It's a relatively small city that's growing by leaps and bounds with access to mountain trails and streams, where deer and bear often walk right down my street and camp out in my front yard.

Now ALIEN has come out of the shadows. She operates her own company, LMG Security, based right here in MSLA. If you need help, here's the link:
https://lmgsecurity.com/

And more info:
https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/internet...

Cheers and Happy Reading!
JIM in MT

Peacegal

10.8k reviews108 followers

March 10, 2021

It was ok, but this book really didn't capture me. I felt it was entirely too long, and personal events in "Alien's" life were very frequent diversions. It seemed as if the entire first half of the book was made up of college hijinks at M.I.T.

Scribe Publications

560 reviews97 followers

Read

April 23, 2019

A novelistic tech tale that puts readers on the front lines of cybersecurity. For all whose lives and connections depend on the internet — nearly everyone — this biography of the ‘Alien’ provides a fast-paced cautionary tale. Jeremy Smith has enough experience as a computer programmer to understand the technicalities of this world, but his storytelling makes it intelligible to general readers; indeed, the narrative is more character-driven than technology-driven ... Smith goes into great detail to demonstrate how Alien could penetrate the security of whomever was employing her, showing how a real criminal would do it, and makes fearfully clear that there is ‘no such thing as absolute security in this world, or any definitive and final fixes.’ A page-turning real-life thriller, this is the sort of book that may leave readers feeling both invigorated and vulnerable.
Kirkus Reviews

Scintillating ... Alien’s mindset and exploits epitomise the spirit of hacking — a dogged perseverance directed at outsmarting and outwitting barriers of any kind ... An unabashedly human and humane portrait of a brilliant hacker.
Gabriella Coleman, Author of Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy

In Breaking and Entering, Jeremy Smith reveals the human side of cybersecurity.The book covers the vast spectrum of why and how hackers do what they do. A great thriller!
Paul de Souza, Founder, Director, and President of the Cyber Security Forum Initiative

Hunter S. Thompson famously said ‘Only life can kill you’ and the hackers who pushed their minds and bodies to the limit at MIT tested this theory in every conceivable way. Alien survived and managed to escape, but life was no easy road from that point on. This story of all that she has overcome and accomplished holds a mirror to the challenges and triumphs that are part of the journeys of so many women in tech and so many hackers in America.
Deviant Ollam, Author of Practical Lock Picking and Keys to the Kingdom

A joy. With wit and masterful storytelling, Jeremy Smith takes the reader inside information security. Alien encounters sex and drugs, bureaucracy and exploitative bosses, and the stresses of running a business and family — and she never stops hacking.
Skylar Rampersaud, Senior Security Researcher at Immunity Inc.

Every hacker has his or her story. This book weaves a riveting tale of one woman’s journey from the catacombs of MIT’s hacking culture to becoming the CEO of a computer security consulting company. There are plenty of technical computer security books, but I am often asked about how to get started in hacking. This book tells the human side of that story.
James Butler, Chief Technology Officer at Endgame Inc.

A thoroughly entertaining read! Breaking and Entering recount the journey of one skilled hacker, Alien, as she navigates her way from the bowels of MIT’s hidden corridors to the top of the infosec community. In the best tradition of the movie Sneakers, Jeremy Smith illuminates the pivotal role played by white hat hackers in protecting our most important assets.
Eli Sugarman, Cyber Initiative Program Officer, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Breaking and Entering is an awesome, beautiful, and sometimes nerve-wracking story. It is also the story of someone unafraid to delve into the boundaries of what is possible and to act courageously in the face of what she learned. The technical references are relevant, accurate, and most importantly, accessible, including for non-technical readers. And Alien’s career and life story arc are things anyone trying to chart their course in life can relate to.
Soren Spies, Former President of Technology House at Brown University

Smith ... serves a fascinating and entertaining account ... Vignettes careen from gripping to funny and show the critical need for regular testing, as security breaching in elections and corporate and personal identity theft are growing industries ... Like an espionage thriller, this account ensnares readers into the high-stakes world of computer security, told through Alien's emergence as a recognized expert in a male-dominated profession. It will reach audiences of enthusiastic hackers and general readers.
Karl Helicher, Library Journal

[A] book that reads like a fictional thriller while remaining solidly grounded in fact ... Smith’s book is remarkably easy to read. Although hacking can involve very complex programming tactics and systems architecture issues that lay readers would struggle to understand, the author keeps the technical side of the story manageable and easy to follow ... Breaking and Entering is an engaging cautionary tale of security vulnerabilities and the constant threat of cyber attacks that businesses and institutions face on a daily basis.
Michael J. McCann, New York Journal of Books

When the woman now known as Alien turned up at MIT more than 20 years ago, she took a while to figure out that what interested her was hacking. First, in the term's original meaning, came physical trespassing, but eventually she settled on computer hacking and wound up working for a company that specialized in testing business security systems. Later, she founded her own cybersecurity firm. This riveting book follows Alien as she transforms herself from a young woman up for pretty much any challenge, no matter how dangerous, to a woman who is among the best in the world at what she does. Freelance journalist Smith writes with gusto, giving Alien's story the feel of a novel (or, perhaps, a movie along the lines of 1995's Hackers). The world of hacking and cybersecurity still carries a mystique; only the privileged few are permitted to learn the secrets that lie within the close-knit hacker community. This book opens the gates and invites readers inside. It's not only a powerful story about a specific hacker; it's also a fascinating look at the hacking world, in general.
David Pitt, Booklist

Smith’s writing style…is crisp as he charts the course of Alien’s life in a series of vignettes from uncertain undergraduate to successful business owner. The structure works because Smith is a lively storyteller.
The New York Times Book Review

Amusing and cautionary tale.
WORLD Magazine

A fascinating look at hacking and the cybersecurity industry that has evolved. Alien is one bad-ass woman!
The Missoulian

Jeremy Smith’s novelistic biography of the famous female hacker known only as Alien reads like a fictional thriller … This is a fascinating, well told story that will have you looking nervously at your ‘smart watch’, and even your baby monitor.
Jeff Popple, Canberra Weekly

Using dialogue to recreate past scenes, this is a pacy, sharply written tale.
Sydney Morning Herald

Breaking and Entering is very much a profile book, never straying from Alien’s perspective, but it does hint towards the broader story cybersecurity and how pivotal the role of hackers — the black and white hates — will be on society in the years to come. FOUR STARS
Good Reading

Breaking and Entering drops you down a virtual rabbit hole, into the digital playground of hackers and cybersecurity … an eye-opening entrée into the personal and professional life of a smart, committed, daring hacker – an Alien encounter that’s worth having.
Julie Cook, North and South

    biography history non-fiction

CatReader

489 reviews40 followers

September 16, 2020

I was torn between two and three stars but ended up being more generous here.

This is a borderline poorly-written, very loosely nonfiction book about "Alien", aka "Elizabeth Tessman", who is actually a woman named Sherri Davidoff. I wouldn't exactly call her story "extraordinary," but I think it definitely is interesting. I think I would have enjoyed this book a lot better if Davidoff had actually written her own memoir (by herself or with a co-author/ghostwriter), rather than have a random guy write it for her under an unnecessary pseudonym.

Davidoff attended MIT in the late '90s/early '00s where she was involved in the "hacking" society, which basically meant taking LSD and breaking and entering into physical buildings, not computers. However, at MIT she did develop an interest in and affinity for hacking into computer networks, which she has parlayed into a successful career as a "white hat." Basically, she is hired by companies, government organizations, and other organizations to test their information security, and she and her team conduct covert in-person infiltration attempts, network hacks, and phishing schemes, all with the clients' explicit permission, to understand how vulnerable their networks and assets are to being compromised, with the goal of being able to better secure their networks. She definitely made a wise career choice given the seemingly never-ending series of data breaches and successful phishing scams that are so commonplace these days. It was interesting for me to learn about some tactics that "white hats" as well as "black hats" (nefarious hackers) use to compromise information.

But there was a lot that put me off about this book as well:
- lots of unnecessary details about mundate events that couldn't have been recollected in real time, making this book more fiction than nonfiction
- overall length. This book could have been cut down by about half and still included all the key points.
- all the cringeworthy details about the subject's romantic life and use of illicit substances
- the (presumably) true details about how the subject faced sexism at her first information security company which led to her being fired, only to turn around and found her own information security firm where instead of hiring and promoting women and quashing the "boys club" culture in the office, she perpetuates it

Overall, a mixed bag. I'd recommend this to folks who want to learn more about the evolution of information security from 2000 onwards in a format besides a dry textbook, but that's about it.

Don Richards

13 reviews

January 6, 2020

This was a raw view of a person's professional development from clueless explorer to world class hacker/security professional. Very insightful on how to get started in the security industry and pitfalls that can impact your journey. I really liked this one. It gives a clear picture as to how to approach security fundamentally and I couldn't stop laughing at one of the code names, Cheese burger. Absolutely worth the read.

Lukasz

855 reviews4 followers

November 20, 2020

Niniejsza pozycja to bardzo ciekawy reportaż i biografia w jednym. Autor jest dziennikarzem. Hakerkę o której jest ta książka spotkał na zawodach sportowych w których ich dzieci brały udział. Nawiązała się między nimi znajomość. Spotykali się częściej podczas zawodów sportowych ich dzieci, aż w końcu okazało się iż znajoma dziennikarza, matka regularnie przywożąca dzieci na zawody sportowe ma dość ciekawą "hakerską" przeszłość. Autor zaproponował Alien że napisze o jej życiu ksiązkę. Wyraziła zgodę i w ten oto sposób powstała ta książka.
Alien pochodzi w rodziny żydowskiej. Jej rodzicie prowadzili mały biznes. Alien po zakończeniu szkoły średniej postanowiła podjąć studia na prestiżowej uczelni MIT -- Massachusetts Institue of Technology. Właśnie część książki dotycząca studiów była najciekawsza dla mnie. W MIT działają różne grupy studenckie, nierformalne. Już na samym początku swoich studiów "Alien" zapoznała się z grupą hakerską. Okazuje się, że "hakowanie" nie tylko ma coś wspólnego z nowymi technologiami i komupterami. Grupa hakerskich studentów z MIT na przykład organizowała nocne ekspedycje gdzie wchodzili w różne zakazane miejsca na terenie uczelni i tam uwieczniali swoją obecność wpisem mazakiem na ścianie. Tak na przykład wchodzili do budynków uczelniany przeznaczonych do rozbiórki, czy też na przykład eksplorowali tunele przez które biegły instalacje centralnego ogrzewania, czy nawet, co było dość niebezpieczne wspinali się w szybach wind. Oczywiście były też inne akcje hakerskie organizowane przez tą grupę studentów związane z konsumpcją narkotyków czy też prawdziwym hakowaniem komputerowym.
Te doświadczenia na uczelni MIT wprowadziły Alien w środowisko hakerskie. Alien stała się hakerką. Odkryła mentalność hakerską. Hakerski stan ducha stał się nieodłączną częścią jej osobowości.
Alien niejeden raz otarła się o śmierć, na przykład wspinając się po wysokim gzymsie budynku jej akademika lub też wspinając się w szybie windy. Podczas studiów straciła też bliskiego przyjaciela, który niestety podczas hakerskiej sztuczki zmarł.
Książka jednak nie kończy się na hakerskich wybrykach Alien podczas jej studiów. Poznajemy jej dalszą drogę życiową -- Od studentki hakerki do prężnie działającej bizneswoman prowadzącą własną firmę zajmującą się doradztwem w dziedzinie cyberbezpieczeństwa.
Bardzo ciekawa książka. Opisuje współczesną biografię kobiety hakerki, ale również jej drogę życiową oraz budowanie solidnej kariery zawodowej. Aspekty ludzkie też są mocno wyeksponowane w tej książce. No i subkultura studencka oraz tradycja hakerska uczelni MIT, to też ciekawe wątki tej książki. Cieszę się, że natrafiłem na tą książkę.

Oren

15 reviews2 followers

January 11, 2023

I am struggling to put into words the emotions I feel at the moment. The only accurate statement, I think, would be that I am fascinated.

Clearly, I did not read the back cover carefully enough. I did not understand that this was a true story until I reached the epilogue. This certainly would have changed my impressions and understanding as I went through the book.

That being said, while this book certainly contained fast-paced action and extremely engaging stories of hacking, it was incredibly poorly written. The age-old writing advice of "show don't tell" was followed, in its converse, to a tee. (And since this is Goodreads, not StackOverflow, I should mention: the converse of a statement is logically flawed.)

For instance, consider the following line: "It was an apology, not an attempt to get back together. She was determinedly single now, she decided, and capped the change by dyeing her hair orange." You can tell me she dyed her hair and I would have no trouble understanding why. In fact, my reading experience would be improved, I feel, if given space for interpretation and more understanding of Alien as a character. Additionally, the book contains typos and grammatical mistakes in abundance.

To put it in olfactory terms, while the plot was like a lovely, fresh sprig of rosemary, I felt the story telling to be fusty in every way.

And lastly, in summary, I will draw inspiration from the words of a good friend of mine, who is herself a budding author, and one with much greater potential than Smith. I give this book two stars. Both are for the plot. The writing and vocab skills deserve nothing.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.

Chris

147 reviews2 followers

February 7, 2019

Fascinating window into the MIT culture and the path through the jungle of the cyber security world at the highest levels, extra challenging for a woman. The race has no finish line, and there is no complete safety for any of us! Amazing to read about what secrets can be hacked (all of them) and the extent to which social engineering works on even the most careful and suspicious of us. Enjoyed this, but the fear is valid!!

Tim

209 reviews1 follower

August 16, 2019

Very good book. Enjoyed the parts about MIT - never knew about the hacks there.

The cyber part of the story was told very well.

John Biddle

685 reviews56 followers

October 15, 2023

An interesting story in two parts. Alien's experiences as an undergraduate at MIT and then her career as a white hat hacker for a couple companies and then going out on her own.

Both sections were interesting and I learned things (always good) and kept wanting to read more.

    nf-biography nf-misc nf-stem

Stuffy Nose

1 review

March 1, 2019

It just wasn't a very good book to me. I felt like parts of the story were missing, some antics felt overly-exaggerated. I also felt the final 50'ish pages were rushed to completion.
----
Alien couldn't understand why she wasn't getting field work, yet she didn't know about the 'ping' command. I was already just okay with the book until i got to that part of the story. The book was very difficult for me to finish from that point on.

    disliked

Maxim Stanley

6 reviews5 followers

October 18, 2021

The first thing I did when picking up Breaking and Entering was researching the author and what else he has written, his bibliography isn’t impressive to say the least. Thankfully, Breaking and Entering has a good enough subject to hold up on its own without thinking too hard about the author. (I’m kind of interesting in reading his other books now though, surprisingly.)

The story is a biography about a girl the book refers to as “alien” throughout the book (The Elizabeth Tessman name other characters called her also pseudonymous, since the publishing of this book she’s come out publicly with her real name). This girl is well, kind of a crybaby. At first I really didn’t know what to do think about it. I really hammered it into my status updates that she (or the author to spice things up, who nose) shared really intimate details about her personal life. The stuff up to Mace dying and minute blog like details were fine but after that it held up the story. Everything interesting would take a back seat every couple pages to “Alien got a new boyfriend” or “Alien felt inadequate and wanted to be a free lovin’ hippie”. Aliens confidence is a big theme I guess. I really enjoyed the MIT style of hacking and how the breaking into buildings theme circles back around at the end of the book. The story arc is well designed and I believe most of it.

The middle of the book strays a bit from hacking and cyberpunk a bit and goes into how alien found herself returning to where she began in MIT and taking hacking as a profession with the Los Alamos and Hospital arcs. I really liked pinon, he was a cool character, one of the few who had details overshared that I enjoyed besides Mace. I’d consider the part at the hospital also the middle.

The last few chapter or “third part” is what people who pick the book up are really looking for. It still has a lot of drama and blog-posts in it but I really enjoyed everything from the Elite Defense part to the very end where aliens business slowly grows and it ends with the realization that the hackers alien were after were paying her bills. It is pretty chilling knowing everything is vulnerable.

The funny part is, I’m a fan of David Foster Wallace and the end of this book made me think of the title of the book where somebody- just like the author of this book interview alien- interviewed DFW.

Although of Course in the End you end up Becoming Yourself

“You mean it’s impossible to become a hacker” I asked.
“The only thing you can become,” Alien said. “is yourself.”
While one of her recurring fantasies was to live a normal, boring life, for her what would be the hardest hack of all.

Pg. 289

Note: Jeremy Smith and alien have both live or have lived in Missoula. Take that as you may.

Dennis Mitton

Author3 books7 followers

July 31, 2023

My daughter and I rifle the computer section of our Barnes and Noble weekly, looking for anything new. I’m most interested in the philosophy of computing and AI and math. Not her. She stays up ’til two most nights studying JavaScript or Python or linear algebra. So when I sawBreaking and Entering and read the back blurb, I was hooked. It felt like reading tea leaves.

Alien captured me immediately. She’s the protagonist of this truthy-but-reads-like-fiction story. The back cover calls the book a ‘taught thriller’ and it’s what I expected from a writer with his bio.

Alien is a girl who runs off to MIT to study computing. She’s incrementally drawn through the course of the book into the world of black hat and white hat hacking. She wears a white hat, but seems happiest wearing a black hat for spy ops. I have no question this was good for the schools, labs, and hospitals where she worked. If she were to truly switch hats, this would be a very different book.

Don’t worry: the writer never assumes that you know this underworld lingo or how it works. Alien didn’t either when she first got to Boston. Along with explaining the nuances of this world, I like how the author writes in shortish blurbs, kind of like dashing off emails between sips of coffee.

For me, the book isn’t what I supposed it to be. It was not a ‘taught thriller.’ In fact, it reads flat, like a series of taped-together blog posts. We watch Alien grow in her understanding of computers and hacking, but don’t see any actual change or growth. This is non-fiction, of course, so character arcs aren’t as important as they are in Wuthering Heights, but the flat writing makes Alien look flat, too. If anything, Alien calms through her arc, bowing to the necessities of accounting and business cards of having a family. And of taking off her black hat. Even if it was for play. Because of this, the book peaks early, around the time she is let go from her favorite position, for reasons apparently undisclosed.

J Henderson

128 reviews

January 1, 2020

In the late 90s, Elizabeth Tessman aka "Alien" went to MIT. There, she became involved with Fifth East hackers. Not computer hackers but a group of people exploring “off-limits” areas of the university.

While studying at MIT, she started to experiment and enhance the “finger” utility on the university computer system, in order to determine where her friends were at all times. She fell in love with this new type of exploration and switched majors to electrical engineering and computer science in 2001. Working a job with the MIT Information Systems she worked to improve some of the system utilities.

Upon graduation, she worked at as a researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratories. Then, returning to Massachusetts working in as part of the Information Security team at Mayflower Hospital. Neither environment allowed her to follow he passion. The former was too confining. The latter making her feel like a checkbox-item to let patients and staff know that everything was “secure”, but not really doing anything about security.

A chance encounter at a SCAN (Secure Computing and Networking) conference, led to a job with Elite Defense. She advanced her knowledge in various computer security areas, including penetration testing. Ultimately, the high demands of business travelling, and no logistical support from the company combined with the ever increasing demands on her time to work more to wear on her. The company let her go when she decided to take time for herself over a weekend.
She eventually drove out with friends to attend hacker conferences 2008. While there she met an acquaintance, who offered her subcontracting cybersecurity work. She continued to get more work, and eventually that led her to starting her own cybersecurity company.

Decent read, but the names were changed to “protect the innocent”. No spy thriller here, just a report on Elizabeth’s life, her skills and her work.

Kellie

18 reviews2 followers

March 7, 2019

I had been excited to start this book, as it features a female protagonist hacker. Although I purchased this book under the misunderstanding that it was a fictitious thriller, it is more biographical in nature, cataloging vignettes of Alien's life events. I was open to the biographical style, but personally felt like the book was poorly written on numerous levels.

As a female reader, I often found myself rolling my eyes at the author's attempt at relaying Alien's female perspective, which was a thinly veiled male fantasy of the Sexy-Cool-Girl-in-Tech archetype. I could have done without the detailed descriptions of her fishnets, mini skirts, and sexcapades in exchange for more thoughtful development of her internal conflict and thoughts.

As a reader who works in the technology industry, I was underwhelmed with the very short anecdotes of Alien's hacking and penetration-testing. These stories may be interesting to an outsider of the privacy and security field, but I found them to be banal. Almost all of these anecdotes were stories of triumph with little to no conflict-- I felt like I was reading a book about a Hacker SuperWoman, which is a cool idea for a graphic novel, but even then the conflict would need to be dialed up a few notches. When any type of conflict would actually occur in the book, the writer would simply move on to the next chapter or neglect the resolution of that conflict.

These writing flaws result in surface level characters who feel disingenuous to the reader, consistently predictable hacking executions, and bored, dissatisfied readers.

Darrell Paul

34 reviews2 followers

January 27, 2019

Poorly sourced. This guy wants to be Tracy Kidder so badly, but he forgot Kidder's strength: spending time and getting immersed in a person and subject long enough to speak truthfully and with authority.

Just read "Soul of A New Machine" instead.

Breaking And Entering: The Extraordinary Story of a Hac… (2024)

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