So there I was, feeling pretty tired from working too hard, thinking to myself that I really need a break from everything related to educational technology. “I really must get out more.”, I told myself.
And indeed I have, metaphorically speaking, by embarking on a novel by Jeffery Deaver, called The Blue Nowhere. It involves computer hacking. (It’s possible that I haven’t quite got the concept of getting away from it all.)
Like all Jeffery Deaver books, there’s an intriguing plot and, no doubt, plenty of plot twists to come. I have read only about an eighth of it, therefore I cannot review it exactly, just give my impressions so far.
It features a computer hacker who selects his murder victims and then gets to know all about them by hacking into their computers. As an aside, it’s interesting to note how much seems to have changed, in both technology and terminology, in the nine years since the book was published in 2001. For example, do we continue to draw the distinction between hackers (the good guys, or at least the not-really-evil guys), and crackers, the nasty pieces of work? Does anyone still do phreaking, that is hacking into telephone systems in order to make free calls overseas? If so, haven’t these people heard of Skype?
Of course, they did it, and possibly still do it, for the challenge. This isn’t directly relevant in regards to this book, but it’s of tangential interest. An understanding of human behaviour, and human nature, is an essential weapon in the true hacker’s armoury. It’s long been recognised that the biggest hole in sophisticated security systems is the human element, and serious hackers – the really serious ones -- are very adept at social engineering. That is, appearing to be someone you’re not (a computer repair person, for example) and, like all good con artists, brilliant at getting people to actually want to help you.
This is very much a theme in the book, as is the issue of keeping oneself safe online. The book is probably too long to make it feasible to set as an assignment (though it might go on a recommended summer reading list if you teach older ones), but there is much to be drawn from it in a professional sense.
- For example, what could victim #1 have done to protect herself whilst online?
- Can hacking ever be morally right? Discuss.
- Data protection is the sort of topic which can be as dry as dust and little more than trying to memorise the laws that have been passed. This story highlights issues which illustrate (or can be used to illustrate) important data protection issues.
You would have to go about this sensitively. Without care, using the book to bring out these kinds of issues could lead to some students – and their parents – becoming totally paranoid about going online at all. As you’ll see if you read the book, keeping safe isn’t entirely a matter of ‘stranger danger’ and not meeting online friends in real life.
But if you’re worried about scaring the kids then you could just read the book for its own sake, for relaxation.
Which is what I’m going to do for the rest of the day.
To purchase the book, click on the picture above and you'll be taken to Amazon UK, where you can buy the book and thereby help me to put some more crumbs on my family's table, courtesy of the Amazon affiliate scheme. Thank you.