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Little Brother by Cory Doctorow : A young hacker sets out to make privacy a public issue


I read Little Brother in one sitting and then went back and forth figuring out some of the stuff that I did not understand. As I read it I wished that I had read this when I was much younger.
The novel is about Marcus,  a smart seventeen year old who likes to hack. He breaks security systems that have been setup. That's just the way his mind is wired.
He and his friends are playing a game(they are on quest) when all of a sudden there is a terrorist attack during which they happen to be in the vicinity. (It sounds incredibly lame the way I have stated the premise but trust me on this, it is not). Marcus gets taken to certain facilities where he is shaken up to put it mildly. What follows next is a masterclass. 
What Doctorow does really well is talk about the trade off between security and privacy. He also talks about what makes people feel(feel is the keyword here, the security might not actually be increased but people feel that it has been) secure may ruin their privacy. At one point of time all sorts of cameras are setup, every action that people make is recorded but he as a seventeen year old manages to hack the security systems. He points out that when security is increased to the point of annoyance and spying it achieves precisely what the terror attack intended in the first place.
Doctorow talks about how to setup systems that are secure and private and resist intrusion. Geek terms are thrown around and the tech behind everything is explained with meticulousness and impeccable style. It reminded me strangely of Neal Stephenson who does a really good job of explaining things. 
Also Little Brother has one of the the best and most mind expanding forewords that I have ever read, talking about the nature of copyright and how it is impossible to use DRM to curtail piracy. While reading I repeatedly said to myself, Damn this guy really gets this. Doctorow's passion shines through on every page where he geeks out, talks about cryptography, Xboxes and hacks. It has a minor romantic sidetrack which I just ignored for the most part(I suspect a younger me might not have done so).
This is a book I would happily give to any thirteen year old. It might change the way they look at the world.

You can even download it for free here. Cory Doctorow practices what he preaches and he has put up a copy under creative commons license for everyone's reading pleasure.

Also if you are interested in this sort of thing have a look at this Ted Talk Bruce Schneier gave on the security mirage.


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