Category Archives: Books

Ashley Madison and the Coming Information Storm

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Generally, I’m inclined to keep my opinions to myself, or to veil them in metaphors wrapped in allegories that are woven into a plotlines. But I have to confess this whole Ashley Madison thing pulls my ripcord.

As a writer whose favorite hobby is turning technology loose on hapless characters, recent events have given me a chance to watch idle conjecture unfold in real-time. And it’s been sad. And scary. And unsurprising.

For anyone not familiar with the story, Ashley Madison is a dating website that caters to those seeking extramarital affairs. Call it the Facebook of infidelity. Ashley Madison members paid upwards of $400 in fees pursuing adulterous liaisons on the site.

In July of this year, a person or persons calling themselves The Impact Team threatened to reveal Ashley Madison member information unless Avid Life Media took the site down. True to their word, in mid-August The Impact Team began releasing user data, including customer names, addresses and sexual preferences.

Since that first data leak, the breach has been linked to firings, resignations, blackmail, identity theft, and most tragic of all, suicide. Avid Live CEO Noel Biderman stepped down on August 28, and all over the world people were rightly (and sometimes wrongly) revealed as cheaters. Marriages fell apart, kids got confused, in-laws got irate, and divorce lawyers everywhere put down hefty deposits on next year’s BMW.

“Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion,” the Impact Team said, and many echoed this righteous sentiment.

But as Glenn Greenwald put it: “[I]t’s worth remembering that the reality is often far more complex than the smug moralizers suggest.”

Every victim of the hacking has a story, a reason. A family. We’re talking about real people, real families, living real consequences. As one who has spent most of their life in the shadow of a family suicide, I can say that no family deserves this.

But I bring this up not because it’s wrong to extort, blackmail or bully (although I could write a book on it), or to tell you that hackers are scary and that the internet is a dangerous place filled with hackers and trolls and lies–but instead to talk about a larger phenomenon that’s happening before our very eyes, something too big for us to fully comprehend yet.

Paper, you had a good run

Five hundred years ago, if you were wealthy enough to have servants and fortunate enough to be able to read and write, you might have been able to send and receive messages cross-country. Just a smidge more than 100 years ago, the first tentative radio signals reached across the Atlantic. Contrast this with today, where information travels to the furthest reaches of the world in a nanosecond.

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Our amazing internet is faster than the telephone, more powerful than print, able to reach remote locations with a single click. And it’s not just for personal communication or entertainment. A giant information cloud rains down on us 24/7.

None of us ever has to wonder how many movies Wes Craven produced or if the local theater is doing a revival this weekend. We don’t need to read maps or know phone numbers or remember appointments—or spend one unoccupied moment, thanks to our smartphones and the rapidly growing market of devices being developed to satisfy our information itch.

It’s a small exchange too: devices are cheap, and apps and web tools generally have one small price: we tell them about us, and they tell us everything. Give us everything. We happily oblige though, because we need it. Last week a friend of mine was hurrying through Manhattan to catch a flight at LaGuardia when his Moto X bricked. “Worst thing ever,” he said. “I can’t believe I made it.”

Indeed. How did we manage? A question we often ask ourselves when we’re standing around during the intermission of Washington Middle School’s production of Our Town, while dialing up the current score on the Vikings game.

And so each of us willingly carries around what amounts to personal surveillance device: complete with camera and GPS, containing our personal information: our hopes, our dreams, our lives. A social media dossier is now attached to everything we do, from applying to a job to meeting and attracting a mate.

And we’re only now beginning to realize: What happens in Vegas stays on Instagram. Forever, and ever and ever.

Once something becomes data, getting rid of it is difficult, if not impossible. Data can be duplicated, screenshotted, archived or spidered and cataloged forever. The Library of Congress has started saving tweets as part of America’s historical record. And I don’t even want to think about what the NSA is up to these days. And here’s something else to consider: how many of those Terms of Service do you actually read?

Yet all of us are willing subscribers, eager to trade our personal slice of data for any convenience. Meanwhile, webbots and screen scrapers mine the cloud, looking for vulnerabilities. Eager for something to use.

And while you might find it hard to sympathize with Lothario McCheaterson and the Ashley Madison debacle, this breach illustrates again the ease with which data can be high-jacked by anyone determined to obtain it.

There are no shortage of information breaches on the news. Nearly 2 billion accounts have been compromised since 2004. And you don’t need to be a victim of identity theft to know it won’t be long before simmering privacy and security issues go full boil.

But still, wouldn’t it be cool to have your needed groceries automatically delivered to your door without you even having to crack a list? And to have them remember to include balsamic vinaigrette, which you only just mentioned to your spouse in passing? And isn’t that creepy? But so worth it, because it makes our lives better and easier. Up until the point our identities are stolen or our health insurer removes all references to Ben & Jerry’s from our grocery lists, in the name of “improving our lives.”

So what happens when your medical record is compromised and you’re turned down for the job you’re after because of that 2012 prescription for Prozac? What happens when your mortgage loan is rejected because of your flip remark about running off to Bimini on Facebook? And what about when you can’t get life insurance because there is just way too much Lana Del Ray on your Spotify?

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No, the risk isn’t just from hackers wearing black hats, breaching networks in the dark of night. We face just as much peril from the boardroom deal between your bank and your health insurer.

The right to individual privacy has always ground against the needs of society. If some nutjob was plotting to incinerate the Ben & Jerry’s freezer at your local market, it’d be good to know about it, right? If someone means to harm us and we could stop them by knowing their plan, it’s a good thing, no? But the waters quickly muddy when you realize the endless number of scenarios and realize there is no gold standard in the war between privacy and right to know.

And when the prize is as vast and valuable as our collective information, expect things only to get more complicated. And the only thing certain is that we are all at risk.

Mira! Mira la tormenta.

Which reminds me, I wonder if Netflix still has Terminator 1 and 2.

HitList by K. Rawson

HitList by K. Rawson What happens when a teenage hacker takes revenge on cyberbullies. Available on Amazon


I am not the Ashley Madison hacker

To set the record straight:

Yes, it’s true that I’m a computer programmer—but that in no way makes me a hacker. And yes, it’s true that my novel HitList is about a hacker who stole the user database of a disreputable website of nefarious purpose. And yes, after the hacking, the website users’ secrets were unleashed, and much chaos did ensue. But no no no no, I did not hack the Ashley Madison website.  

Look—I saw how it turned out in HitList. I know better.

HitList by K. Rawson

HitList by K. Rawson available on Amazon

Wednesday and The Thing That is Kind of Big Deal or I’d Like to Thank the Academy

You know that feeling you get when it’s Wednesday, hovering somewhere between ten and eleven o’clock, and you can’t prove it–but you’re pretty sure the corporate overlords have stopped all the clocks in the building–or slowed them down considerably–and Saturday is only a mythical creature lurking on the other side of a forest of meetings and a swamp of chores and and a moat of to-dos, and the only thing you can think about is pulling a Netflix marathon while eating peanut butter from a jar with a soup ladle?

Okay, maybe it’s just me.

But I do have good news. Today I learned that Kirkus Reviews chose HitList for a featured review in their July issue. I even got a pullquote! You’ll just have to take my word for it for now, since I’m too tired to show you. Color me every shade of excited-happy-tired. A very good Wednesday in spite of the corporate overlords.

Top Ten Reasons to Buy HitList

HitList by K. RawsonIt’s release day for my novel HitList. It’s now available on Amazon in print or Kindle version. And if summer reading isn’t a good enough reason for you, here are ten more reasons to buy my book:

10. Money-back guarantee if you don’t find it chock-full-o-words.

9. Get it before it’s banned.

8. Four words: My kids’ college fund.

7. Sara Megibow can’t be wrong.

6. $2.99!

5. Jake: first you love to hate him, then you hate to love him.

4. My son will personally clean up the dog poop in your yard. (I’m kidding. He won’t even clean up the dog poop in my yard.)

3. Because you better make sure you’re not in it.

2. Because hacker girls are just plain cool.

1. Teenagers: This is the book your parents warned you about.

HitList Review and Release Date

HitList by K. Rawson

Big news on the old blog today. First, I’m happy to share the first official review of my novel HitList, by Kirkus.


An impulsive high school cyber-prank spirals dangerously out of control in Rawson’s visceral, compelling debut YA novel.

Barton High, in a fancy Chicago neighborhood, is a typical school full of freaks and geeks, and senior Quinn Cotti belongs to the latter category. Despite a strong aptitude for computers, her socioeconomic status ensures that she can only make it to her dream school, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a scholarship. Unfortunately, that passport to success may be in danger. In an impulsive move, she once had a drunken sexual fling with her longtime crush—a dreamboat named Jake Vanadel. Now, it appears that Jake has posted their encounter on HitList, an online site that lets kids brag about their “scores.” After other men also put her on their lists, she finds that her school reputation has changed to one of promiscuity. Determined to take revenge, she unleashes a computer virus that hacks her fellow classmates’ social media accounts and posts their unsavory material online. The virus, however, takes on a life of its own, spawning unintended consequences that affect a host of Barton students, including, among others, the slimy Eli Edimas, son of a high-powered attorney; and Cameron Price, a bullied gay kid. As Quinn and Jake try to contain the damage, they come to know the “thorny fact that lies and truth have equal weight,” and that honesty may be the only way out of the mess. The novel’s characters seem to be cast from a standard high school playbook, and, as such, they often stick close to stereotype. That said, the story scores high marks for its taut pacing and for Rawson’s pitch-perfect ear for teenage talk. It also clarifies the nuanced nature of cyberbullying, in which distinct definitions of perpetrators and victims are difficult to come by; after all, Quinn may have unleashed the virus, but her actions also ring true for someone who’s been publicly shamed.

A precise portrait of the teen zeitgeist that reassures readers that, despite indications to the contrary, the kids are all right.

The official release date of my debut novel will be July 2, 2015. The ebook is currently available at Amazon for pre-order.

And hey, if you’re interested in obtaining a free review copy of my book, please provide your email via my contact form and let me know what format you prefer: print, kindle, EPUB or PDF.

Thanks to everyone who stuck by on on this journey!

2015. It’s more than just the square root of 4,060,225.

Magic 8 ball says: My sources say no

Well how else do you make decisions? Magic 8 Ball says: My sources say no.

So I was reflecting on the year to come and contemplating how to fit it all in. I had paralyzing fear penciled in for the first few months, followed by a six-week self-pity retreat, and I was keeping the summer open for raging self-doubt.

And then I thought: No.

Oh my dearies.

It’s not just that I’ve been keeping secrets from you. Turns out I spend most of my time tharn in the middle of life’s headlights. But enough of that sorry behavior.

Galley copy of HitList

View from the desktop with a galley copy of HitList

This year, I’m going to tell all: about my dream-date query experience with HitList, what Random House said about my book and about those next two novels in the queue.

Look for juicy tell-all posts, good advice on badass queries and how to make agents fight over you. Plus, tips on how to blow it all because you’re going through an ugly divorce.

What’s after that? Who knows. Maybe I’ll even update my Facebook status.

Here’s hoping you are in the midst of your own brave plans for 2015.

The Beast is Born

Who is The Beast?

The Beast is my WIP – Work in Progress. There are no actual beasts in my book – only metaphorical ones –  but I call him (yes, he’s a him) The Beast because… well, because he is one.

Gary Busey 2007The Beast looks like a cross between Jabba The Hutt and Gary Busey. I mean no offense to Gary Busey — that is The Beast’s most charming aspect. He showed up one morning, quite uninvited — The Beast did, not Gary Busey.

I suspect he murdered the book I planned to write. He leaves ambiguous stains on the carpet, picks his nose, makes me late for work and makes rude appearances when I’m in the shower or on family outings.

It’s my plan, and my fervent wish, to finish this book as soon as possible in order to evict The Beast.