InSecurity Podcast: Joseph Menn on Cult of the Dead Cow - the Original Hacking Supergroup

Cult of the Dead Cow; Mudge; DilDog; Sir Dystic; Oxblood Ruffin; Lord Digital; Mixter; Psychedelic Warlord

You might not know who they are, but they changed your life more than Lewis Rainieri, the iPod, and YouTube put together.

Have you ever seen Hackers? The Net? Antitrust? Sneakers? If you’re a subscriber to the InSecurity Podcast, odds are you’ve seen those movies as well as a list of others we could mention. If you like any of these flicks, then you know - or should know - that they all owe a debt to a group of men and women who changed the world over 30 years ago.

“Long before there was a multi-billion dollar cyber industry, there were some ethical hackers who showed us that the Silicon Valley emperors had no clothes. They looked like misfits, but they showed us how insecure the Internet was and how to make it better” ~ Richard A. Clarke, first White House "Cyber Czar" discussing Cult of the Dead Cow.

“We were pirates, not mercenaries… Pirates have a code.” ~ Rob Beck; Former member @stake and Cult of the Dead Cow Ninja Strike Force - Much @Stake: The Band of Hackers That Defined an Era.

In this episode of the InSecurity Podcast, Matt Stephenson has the rare privilege of chatting with best selling author Joseph Menn on his latest blockbuster book, Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World. It’s been over 30 years, but Joe spoke with the original punk rock hacking collective about what they did and why they did it – oh, and one of them is running for President of the United States.


About Joseph Menn

Joe Menn (@josephmenn) has been a professional journalist for three decades, specializing in technology stories since 1999. His most recent book, Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World, was published in June 2019.

The New York Times Book Review said, “the tale of this small but influential group is a hugely important piece of the puzzle for anyone who wants to understand the forces shaping the Internet age." An adaptation of the book for Reuters revealed that Beto O'Rourke had been a member of the enormously influential group, and it drew the most engagement on Reuters.com in its history.

Previously, Joe wrote Fatal System Error: the Hunt for the New Crime Lords who are Bringing Down the Internet, the first serious journalism accusing the Russian intelligence agencies of working with organized cyber criminals. It also exposed Gambino crime family investments in Internet gambling operations, and was cited in that context by the Miami Herald and McClatchy Newspapers in their Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the Panama Papers money-laundering leaks.

Cult of the Dead Cow: How the Original Hacking Supergroup Might Just Save the World

The shocking untold story of the elite secret society of hackers fighting to protect our privacy, our freedom — even democracy itself.

Cult of the Dead Cow is the tale of the oldest, most respected, and most famous American hacking group of all time. Though until now it has remained mostly anonymous, its members invented the concept of hacktivism, released the top tool for testing password security, and created what was for years the best technique for controlling computers from afar, forcing giant companies to work harder to protect customers. They contributed to the development of Tor, the most important privacy tool on the net, and helped build cyberweapons that advanced U.S. security without injuring anyone. With its origins in the earliest days of the Internet, the cDc is full of oddball characters — activists, artists, even future politicians. Many of these hackers have become top executives and advisors walking the corridors of power in Washington and Silicon Valley. The most famous is former Texas Congressman and current presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, whose time in the cDc set him up to found a tech business, launch an alternative publication in El Paso, and make long-shot bets on unconventional campaigns. Today, the group and its followers are battling electoral misinformation, making personal data safer, and battling to keep technology a force for good instead of for surveillance and oppression. Cult of the Dead Cow shows how governments, corporations, and criminals came to hold immense power over individuals and how we can fight back against them.

About Matt Stephenson

Insecurity Podcast host Matt Stephenson (@packmatt73) leads the Security Technology team at Cylance, which puts him in front of crowds, cameras, and microphones all over the world. He is the regular host of the InSecurity Podcast and host of CylanceTV.

Twenty years of work with the world’s largest security, storage, and recovery companies has introduced Matt to some of the most fascinating people in the industry. He wants to get those stories told so that others can learn from what has come before.