A chance encounter with a college acquaintance led Smith (Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients) to write this poorly sourced life of Elizabeth Tessman, who was introduced to hacking while an MIT undergrad in the late 1990s, when she adopted the alias of Alien, the name used throughout the text. Smith, who presents Alien’s story, complete with dialogue and details from decades ago without any documentation, doesn’t even assert that he utilized his subject’s detailed diary or other contemporaneous records, and concedes that he changed certain facts. But even readers who put aside their reservations about the book’s credibility may find it hard to get engaged. Once at MIT, Alien joins a group of students who specialize in breaking into off-limits areas of campus to play pranks. Soon one of the group is dead, and federal arrests are made at MIT for internet piracy. After MIT and a stint at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Alien is recruited by a cybersecurity firm that makes use of the trespassing and social engineering talents she developed at MIT. The writing is uneven at best, and neither Alien, who now works in information security, nor the people she interacted with leave much of an impression. This account fails both as a look at a person for whom living “a normal, boring life… would be the hardest hack of all,” and as a warning that there is “no such thing as absolute security in this world.” Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary. (Jan.)
A Bookish Must Read for 2019 An Amazon Best Book of the Month Featured on NBC's TODAY and Nightly News “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 “A book that reads like a fictional thriller while remaining solidly grounded in fact...effortless to read, 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. Knowing that our own personal security hangs in the balance, we can’t help but feel glad that “white hat hackers” such as Alien are out there doing their best to stem the tide."—New York Journal of Books “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 pseudonymous ‘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 (starred review) "A fascinating and riveting account...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-dominate profession." —Library Journal "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." —Booklist “Scintillating.... Alien’s mindset and exploits epitomize 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 “‘Only life can kill you’ some say, 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.” —Jamie Butler , chief technology officer at Endgame Inc. “A thoroughly entertaining read! Breaking and Entering recounts 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, 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
Elizabeth Tessman adopted the user name Alien as a freshman at MIT where she became captivated by hacking. Smith (Epic Measures) serves a fascinating and entertaining account of Alien's maturity from her MIT days (1998–2002), when hacking mostly meant exploring the off-limits tunnels of campus buildings, to becoming a major player in computer security. Despite the rigors of her electrical engineering and computer science study, noncompulsory attendance in several classes allowed for free time to play practical jokes, fueled by alcohol and drugs. Stories document Alien's assessment of computer security for major institutions, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Defense, and state and local governments while working as a professional tester, determining how security systems were protected or how easily they could be breached. 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. VERDICT 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, formerly with Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
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 pseudonymous "Alien" provides a fast-paced cautionary tale. Smith (Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients., 2015, etc.) 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. The book requires a few leaps of faith—not only that Alien is who the author says she is, but that she can so vividly recount events and conversations that happened years before she met the author. The story begins with Alien at MIT. Lacking focus and direction, she was drawn to a hacking community in a time when the term could extend from picking locks to taking drugs and didn't become more focused on technology until computers became more central to society. The hackers often lived more adventurous lives than many students, and Alien experienced plenty of casual sex, drug use, and a few tragic casualties along the way. She graduated from hacking computer systems to helping protect them from hackers at a time when "Corporations from Microsoft and Cisco on down had begun hiring hackers of their own to help defend themselves against other hackers." Some worked one side of the fence, some worked the other, and some straddled the line and were capable of "going rogue." 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." Alien now runs a small hacking company that assists with security for banks, governments, and other organizations.
A page-turning real-life thriller, the sort of book that may leave readers feeling both invigorated and vulnerable.