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The moral clarity of ‘Cult of the Dead Cow’

The moral clarity of 'Cult of the Dead Cow'

In recent years, the word “hacker” has shed some of its negative connotation in policy circles as lawmakers discover white hats who are trying to make the world a better place.

That evolution – to see what was once considered destructive as constructive, and to use it to make software more secure – is an under-appreciated bright spot on today’s cybersecurity landscape. The hacking group that pushed the world furthest toward this paradigm shift is the Cult of the Dead Cow (cDc). Its story is skillfully told in the new eponymously named book from Reuters journalist Joseph Menn.

“In general, the public has become more accepting of hacking and hackers,” Menn, a veteran cybersecurity reporter, told CyberScoop. “One of my goals in writing the book was to push that forward.”

Menn traces cDc from its humble origins in northwestern Texas to the conquests of its more famous members like Peiter “Mudge” Zatko, who has worked for DARPA and Google. In between is the story of how a brilliant band of tinkerers, coders, and provocateurs made Microsoft blush by exposing gaping holes in the Windows operating system, shaped a generation of hacktivists, and influenced a crop of privacy-minded projects like Tor and Citizen Lab.

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