This taut, true thriller dives into a dark world that touches us all, as seen through the brilliant, breakneck career of an extraordinary hacker—a woman known only as Alien.
When she arrived at MIT in the 1990s, Alien was quickly drawn to the school’s tradition of high‑risk physical trespassing: the original “hacking.” Within a year, one of her hallmates was dead and two others were arraigned. Alien’s adventures were only just beginning.
After a stint at the storied, secretive Los Alamos National Laboratory, Alien was recruited by a top cybersecurity firm where she deployed her cache of virtual weapons—and the trespassing and social engineering talents she had developed while “hacking” at MIT. The company tested its clients’ security by every means possible—not just coding, but donning disguises and sneaking past guards and secretaries into the C‑suite.
Alien now runs a boutique hacking outfit that caters to some of the world’s biggest and most vulnerable institutions—banks, retailers, government agencies. Her work combines devilish charm, old‑school deception, and next generation spycraft. In Breaking and Entering, cybersecurity finally gets the rich, character‑driven, fast-paced treatment it deserves.
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."