How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-dollar Cybercrime Underground

Book - 2011
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Former hacker Kevin Poulsen has, over the past decade, built a reputation as one of the top investigative reporters on the cybercrime beat. In Kingpin, he pours his unmatched access and expertise into book form for the first time, delivering a gripping cat-and-mouse narrative--and an unprecedented view into the twenty-first century's signature form of organized crime.

The word spread through the hacking underground like some unstoppable new virus: Someone--some brilliant, audacious crook--had just staged a hostile takeover of an online criminal network that siphoned billions of dollars from the US economy.

The FBI rushed to launch an ambitious undercover operation aimed at tracking down this new kingpin; other agencies around the world deployed dozens of moles and double agents. Together, the cybercops lured numerous unsuspecting hackers into their clutches. . . . Yet at every turn, their main quarry displayed an uncanny ability to sniff out their snitches and see through their plots.

The culprit they sought was the most unlikely of criminals: a brilliant programmer with a hippie ethic and a supervillain's double identity. As prominent "white-hat" hacker Max "Vision" Butler, he was a celebrity throughout the programming world, even serving as a consultant to the FBI. But as the black-hat "Iceman," he found in the world of data theft an irresistible opportunity to test his outsized abilities. He infiltrated thousands of computers around the country, sucking down millions of credit card numbers at will. He effortlessly hacked his fellow hackers, stealing their ill-gotten gains from under their noses. Together with a smooth-talking con artist, he ran a massive real-world crime ring.

And for years, he did it all with seeming impunity, even as countless rivals ran afoul of police.

Yet as he watched the fraudsters around him squabble, their ranks riddled with infiltrators, their methods inefficient, he began to see in their dysfunction the ultimate challenge: He would stage his coup and fix what was broken, run things as they should be run--even if it meant painting a bull's-eye on his forehead.

Through the story of this criminal's remarkable rise, and of law enforcement's quest to track him down, Kingpin lays bare the workings of a silent crime wave still affecting millions of Americans. In these pages, we are ushered into vast online-fraud supermarkets stocked with credit card numbers, counterfeit checks, hacked bank accounts, dead drops, and fake passports. We learn the workings of the numerous hacks--browser exploits, phishing attacks, Trojan horses, and much more--these fraudsters use to ply their trade, and trace the complex routes by which they turn stolen data into millions of dollars. And thanks to Poulsen's remarkable access to both cops and criminals, we step inside the quiet, desperate arms race that law enforcement continues to fight with these scammers today.

Ultimately, Kingpin is a journey into an underworld of startling scope and power, one in which ordinary American teenagers work hand in hand with murderous Russian mobsters and where a simple Wi-Fi connection can unleash a torrent of gold worth millions.

From the Hardcover edition.
Publisher: New York : Crown Publishers, c2011
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780307588708
Branch Call Number: 364.168 P864k
Characteristics: xiii, 266 p. ; 25 cm


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Jun 07, 2014

This book, written by a past life hacker, tells the story of Max Vision and his computer underworld exploits. I liked this book. Easy to understand and read. A full review can be read here:

Aug 12, 2013

This is a book by a real hacker, about hacking in the illegitimate sense of the word, which admittedly is difficult to ascertain when one exists in a completely fraud-based society such as America presently is. A real hacker, as opposed to some grandstanding neophyte such as Kevin Mitnick, who, to those who didn't know him, was more the credit card thief, than hacker, and incompetent at his job in tech support at Group Health which he once held (and his prediction that Microsoft - - and I'm NO MS fan - - would be a goner by 2001 was as on target as his other stuff). Update: The author of this book, now an editor at "Wired" magazine, was the only person and/or reporter, to file FOIA requests for information files from the Secret Service on Aaron Swartz and his persecution.) [Order of best books on subject: 1) "This Machine Kills Secrets" 2) "Kingpin" 3) "Anonymous"]

Sep 06, 2011

This is a really interesting case study of a modern hacker (i.e. financially motivated), their modus operandi, and their associates.

Kevin Poulsen knows his stuff. He keeps the technical description to a minimum, but still manages to describe how hacks work. He also does a good exploring the motivations of Max Butler.

The most interesting part of the book is hidden away in the epilogue, when Poulsen writes "Underlying all these breaches is a single systemic security flaw exactly 3.375 inches long. Credit card magstripes are a technological anachronism, a throwback to the age of the eight-track tape, and today the United States is virtually alone in nurturing this security hole. [...] American banks and credit card companies have rejected [better security] because of the enormous cost of replacing hundreds of thousands of point-of-sale terminals with new gear. In the end, the financial institutions have decided their fraud losses are acceptable, even with the like sof Iceman prowling their networks."

Aug 15, 2011

This is a fine and fast-paced book that paints a detailed portrait of the computer-hacking underworld. Everything you always wanted to know about how credit card theft is accomplished and how it works. Very readable. There's detail there that people who really understand computers might get more from than I did, but it is not obtrustive--you don't feel like you are getting lost in the weeks. The personalities come out pretty clearly and that's what makes it enjoyable. I wouldn't be surprised to see a movie from it--plenty of action. All in all, a very enjoyable read.

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