cover image At Large

At Large

Charles C. Mann. Simon & Schuster, $24 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-684-82464-2

An obsessive, meticulous pattern of virtual break-ins is plaguing the computers of MIT, NASA and other allegedly secure systems. As it becomes clear that one user is systematically gaining access to the machines, the FBI, as in other similar cases, is inspired to catch the criminal and then to use him or her as an example for future hackers (or ""crackers,"" in derogatory techie lingo). Mann (coauthor, Noah's Choice) and Freedman (editor of Inc. Technology magazine) follow the case as it unfolds, demonstrating that no computer is entirely secure. As the break-ins described here prove ultimately as harmless in intent as they are dangerous in potential, the most intriguing mystery involves the personality of the brain-damaged perpetrator who sends the FBI and computer experts into such a frenzy. The prose here is articulate, the research impressive, and while the narrative never explodes with the excitement of Jonathan Littman's computer crime tales, it should keep even dedicated Web surfers away from their screens and focused on paper pages for a few absorbing hours. First serial to the New Yorker. (July)