THE MAGAZINE

New in Plaintext

By Peter Piazza

Since Wallace Wang’s new book, Steal This Computer Book 4.0: What They Won’t Tell You About the Internet, hit my desk, a strange thing happened: Almost every person who saw it immediately asked to borrow it. This wasn’t just the other office geeks, but some downright technophobes, as well. So far, no one has heeded Wang’s exhortation to steal it, but I won’t be surprised if it happens.

There are good reasons for all the interest. The book, published by No Starch Press, is a provocative look at the ways the Internet can be used, misused, and abused. It’s written for an Internet user of any ability. It’s clever (at times sarcastic) and well designed. And it includes a CD containing 23 folders of software programs that do everything from cracking passwords to writing pop-up ads (as well as software that blocks these ads).

Though Wang is not advocating illegal activities or encouraging readers to become malicious hackers, he does teach such dubious skills as virus writing. “The purpose of this book isn’t to teach you to be a hacker,” he cautions in the Introduction, “but rather to teach you to think like one.”

The book is best browsed through in front of a computer, because you’ll be eagerly visiting the Web sites he writes about and trying the software and tactics he describes. Many of the latter I had never heard of. For instance, in a chapter on how to work around censorship (government or corporate) of Web sites, he describes how to access banned Web pages by having them e-mailed to you. No special software is required; just send an e-mail containing the URL of the Web site you want to see to a certain e-mail address, and the full site will be sent back to you inside a return message.

Readers who are very tech-savvy may not find too much new here (though some who browsed my copy certainly did), but novice readers will get a jargon-free look at the dark underbelly of the Net.

The only problem with the book is that everyone who saw it wanted to walk away with it. @ You can get a copy from online retailers for about $20. But you may have trouble keeping it.

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