‘This Machine Kills Secrets’ Showcases 40-Years Of Leaking The World’s Secrets

Pic of book: This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World's Information

3 Reasons To Read This Book:

    1. Learn the who, what, why, when and where of now famous people who’ve leaked information
    2. Enjoy fascinating stories that are woven throughout the book about cryptographers and cypherpunks
    3. Get new ideas for an entrepreneurial venture in software related to privacy, cryptography, or anonymity


With the recent whistle-blowing by Edward Snowden and then news that the most senior US intelligence official, James Clapper, had lied to the U.S. Senate about surveillance activities, made this book a perfect choice to read this month. If you haven’t been watching the news, you can always check out the excellent journalistic pieces by Glenn Greenwald at the Guardian News regarding all of the above. Either way, this book was a fantastic read into the history and future of leaking. The full name of this book is This Machine Kills Secrets: How WikiLeakers, Cypherpunks, and Hacktivists Aim to Free the World’s Information. It’s not a business book, but it does touch on technology entrepreneurship and provides a sense of the problems facing privacy and therefore where opportunities might be for an entrepreneur. So, having recently read this I thought I’d write a quick review of it here.

A couple of years ago the author, Andy Greenberg, a Forbes columnist, published an interview with Julian Assange regarding Wikileaks and how data can be anonymously leaked from any institution on a large scale. Since then, Andy has been tracing the history and future of this idea of high volume, untraceable data disclosures. For a great intro to this book check out this video by the author, Andy Greenberg:

What You’ll Gain

The book starts off by showcasing the background of the now famous Daniel Ellsberg who leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times around 1970. The author then intertwines in with that the story of modern-day leaker Bradley Manning and how similar yet very different Bradley was from Daniel. Andy explain that the two essential traits of a leaker are:

  1. knowledge (of secrets)
  2. lack of power

The traits help to explain much of the leaking by other characters mentioned in the book. But, instead of simply talking about the backgrounds of leakers themselves, the book takes you through the history of several categories of individuals that have been crucial to the fulfillment of leaking on a global scale. These categories include:

  1. The whistleblowers
  2. The cryptographers
  3. The cypherpunks
  4. Developers of onion routers
  5. The plumbers (hackers etc)
  6. The globalizers (promoters of the movement)
  7. The engineers (technology entrepreneurs etc)

In reality, first there were whistle-blowers such as Daniel Ellsberg with the Pentagon Papers, but out of that incident arose the need for a way to encrypt data and then to anonymous the sender of the data. The book follows the history of how this has been fulfilled. and what lies ahead in the future.


The goal of the book was to show how some individuals aim to free the world’s information. The purposes of those in this movement are typically for purposes of making government more transparent or to empower citizens that are being tormented by authoritarian dictatorships or corrupt governments. The book has done a fantastic job of summarizing the most important events in this movement’s 40 year history. Andy Greenberg brings not only summaries of past events but also first-hand interviews with the top people in the community. The end result for an entrepreneurial individual is a insider’s view into the realm of the technologies, politics, and business skills that were needed to bring this movement to where it is today.

Some entrepreneurial technology organizations that have risen from concerns about privacy are:

1) Duck Duck Go – search engine

Search anonymously. Find instantly. DuckDuckGo is a search engine that does not track you and, has more instant answers and less spam/clutter.

See article: DuckDuckGo sees user base jump, fueled by tracking concerns

2) Tor Project – online anonymity

Tor prevents anyone from learning your location or browsing habits. Tor is for web browsers, instant messaging clients, remote logins, and more.

See article: Tor, An Overview

The only minor flaw with the book is that there are many characters in it and the stories aren’t written of one person at a time. A chapter will start with one character, introduce a couple more and then every few pages the author switches constantly back-and-forth between the stories of these individuals. I think my memory is worse than others though so this may not be a problem for most people and it actually made it more exciting to read.

Final Comments

If you’re looking for an interesting non-fiction story that connects with recent world political events and privacy technology, you may want to consider this book. I enjoyed it for being a fairly quick read and one that kept my attention all the way through.

Click here to check out This Machine Kills Secrets on Amazon.com


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