At Large is a non-fiction novel. The true story of Matt Singer (obviously not his real name), who is mentally retarded in reality, but leads a second life as the hacker, Phantomd and Infomaster . The story takes place from March 1991 to January 1993, and traces the events surrounding Phantomd s escapades as he breaks into one computer system after another.
Singer is not an extremely talented hacker. He uses the most well know techniques, but the thing that makes him different is incredible patience. Matt spends from six up to forty-eight hours straight searching computer after computer for security holes he can exploit. Phantomd is after access. Only access, so he can feel secure in his virtual world, and bypass his inability in the real world. As he gains access to more systems, he attracts the attention of more and more sysadmins on the systems he violates. Soon the FBI have been contacted several times about him, and by the time they are ready to do something about it, he has gained root access on hundreds of systems around the world, mainly universities, but also many commercial, military and government sites as well. When they finally raid his house and get him, they can t convict him. He cannot understand the link between his virtual world and the real world.
The fact that the book is based on the actual logs of the cracker s activity and interviews with almost all the people involved, makes the story ever more interesting. I enjoyed the footers on the pages explaining different terms and other background information.
The book was well researched and well written. The authors have made clear the facts and the different places, and times without majorly slowing down the flow of the story line. The style it is written in is easy to read, descriptive but also suspenseful, with a bit of humour thrown in for good measure. Another fun feature was the selection of relevant quotes at the start of most chapters.
The most irritating thing was probably the brevity of the novel, a lot of further detail could have been given for what happened between some events, but then again maybe that would have simply slowed down the progression of the storyline. The only other thing that could have improved was the research, some of the facts didn t seem right (DOS, Digital Operating System???).