Book Review: Elegant guide to unblocking the Net

26th March 2012
Book Review: Elegant guide to unblocking the Net

How to Unblock Everything on the Internet: By Ankit Fadia;Vikas Publishing House; Rs 150  

Ten years ago, Ankit Fadia then a computer whizzkid, fresh out of Delhi Public School, wrote his first book -- the youngest author to be published by Macmillan. It was called "Unofficial Guide to Ethical Hacking" and as The Hindu newspaper group's IT guy in those days, I received the book for a review. I found the very subject of hacking to be an oxymoron — a contradiction in terms. What could be ethical about illegally gaining access to a computer or a network?

The book offered a fine distinction between hacking and cracking -- the good guys are the hackers; the bad guys are crackers. I am afraid, I couldn't stomach the distinction and my review echoed my scepticism. But as it turned out, Ankit was right and possibly even ahead of his time. I was wrong -- as I realize in hindsight. One can hack and one can still be one of the good guys.

This was reinforced a few years after I reviewed Ankit's first book (  ) when I had the rare opportunity of being present among the delegates at a customer event of what was then, SupportSoft , in San Francisco, where Kevin Mitnick, the world's most famous hacker ( and arguably the world's first cyber criminal, since reformed and reinvented as a much sought-after security specialist ) demonstrated, live on stage, how he could penetrate the security of the US telephone system and receive calls made to the White House switchboard.

Since then, sections of the music and entertainment industry, scared by the explosion of the Internet and associated technologies, have put in place restrictions on consumers in the name of digital rights management, that were both over reaching and patently unfair practice. To crack such restrictions seemed just retaliation -- and justification, if one were needed,  for the whole business of ( ethical) hacking.

Ankit's latest book, merely formalizes this whole business, in a clinical and business-like fashion and offers a host of useful tips and tricks to overcome what you and a lot of others might consider to be unreasonable limitations: download limits in so -called 'unlimited' accounts; blocks placed on access to USB ports or private email accounts; instant messaging or live chat or social media sites by over- zealous employers...

Travelling to some countries where Internet is censored can be a bit of a nuisance. Ankit suggests how you can overcome local surfing restrictions. He also throws in a lot of hints for more routine and innocuous tasks like creating remote access to your own desktop or switching operating systems to something you can carry on a pen drive.
Young Social media users as well as seasoned professionals will find enough goodies to justify the modest asking price of the book. 

In the decade since Ankit Fadia book on hacking, a lot has changed including our very perception of hacking. But one thing has not changed -- at least not enough: The internet still remains uncharted territory with no road rules. Sometimes we have to make our own -- and Ankit just tells us how, elegantly, simply, without weighing down his words with a lot of ethical baggage.
 - Anand Parthasarathy