Underground (1997)

Suelette Dreyfus

21 Apr 2020

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Non-fiction about the early days of computer hacking and the internationally-prominent Australian hackers of the time. All of whom were seemingly based out of Melbourne.

Amazing. So fun to read. Dreyfus keeps the story gripping throughout. I like narrative history like this.

Julian Assange helped research the book and features in a few chapters under his hacker alias ‘Mendex’. He also designed the pleasingly geeky ASCII layout of the .txt version of the book (see image). However the story mostly focuses on two hackers, Phoenix and Electron (real names Nahshon Even-Chaim and Richard Jones).


Phoenix and Electron hacked using Commodore Amigas and Ataris and hung out on a primordial hacker chat room called “the Realm”. They were two of the first hackers to face computer hacking charges in Australian court for hacking.

One of the hacks was the infamous “WANK worm” hack on NASA. The hack delayed a major NASA launch and was only traced back to Australia by American security experts when infected NASA machines were presented with a “you’be been hacked” message containing what turned out to be Midnight Oil lyrics. As the launch involved sending into space – for the first time – a nuclear powered generator, the lyrics were “you talk of times of peace but then prepare for war” from the song “Blossom of Blood”. Critics of the lauch argued that NASA and the US Government were preparing for the nuclearisation of space.

True to the hacker/open source ethos you can read the whole book for in various formats for free, including the Assange text version here.

It’s the first time i’ve read an ebook cover to cover and it was suprisingly nice. I guess also reading this book about hacking on a text editor on your computer completes the experience. :P