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Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground Paperback – February 7, 2012

ISBN-13: 978-0307588692 ISBN-10: 0307588696 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (February 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307588696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307588692
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (135 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #105,576 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a previous life, Poulsen served five years in prison for hacking. So the Wired senior editor and "Threat Level" blogger knows intimately the terrain he explores in this page-turning tale of the criminal exploits of a hacker of breathtaking ambition, Max Butler, who stole access to 1.8 million credit card accounts. Poulsen understands both the hows of hacking, which he explains clearly, as well as the whys, which include, but also can transcend, mere profit. Accordingly, his understanding of the hacking culture, and his extensive interviews with Butler, translates into a fascinating depiction of a cybercriminal underworld frightening in its complexity and its potential for harm, and a society shockingly vulnerable to cybercrime. The personalities, feuds, double dealing, and scams of the hackers are just one half of this lively story. The other half, told with equal verve, is law enforcement's efforts to find and convict Butler and his accomplices. (Butler is now serving a 13-year sentence and owes .5 million in restitution.) Poulsen renders the hacker world with such virtual reality that readers will have difficulty logging off until the very end. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"[A] brisk and entertaining tale."--The New York Times

"Even though he has done jail time for his cyber crimes and credit card hacking, it’s hard not to like Max "Max Vision" Butler.... The capers of this misfit genius, and the FBI’s attempts to infiltrate credit card hacking rings, combine to make this a fast, fun read."--Newark Star-Ledger

“Hello, Hollywood, Kevin Poulsen has a tale for you. Deftly told.”—San Francisco Chronicle

"What will make this book endure is Poulsen's elegant elucidation of how the hacking world evolved from its pimply, ideological beginnings into a global criminal enterprise"--Atlantic.com

“Poulsen renders the hacker world with such virtual reality that readers will have difficulty logging off until the very end.”—Publishers Weekly
 
“The lead figures of KINGPIN are brilliant, crooked geeks and the sleazy women who love to help them steal. Their mortal enemies are a cyber-savvy swarm of undercover cops.  Kevin Poulsen gets so close to these paranoid, shadowy people that you can smell the sweat on the keyboards and hear the handcuffs clack shut. No other book can match this intimate, expert portrait of a truly modern criminal underworld.”--Bruce Sterling, Hugo Award-winning novelist and futurist
 
“An exciting crime thriller, a compelling psychological study, and one of the most accurate stories of hacker culture that I’ve ever read…Poulsen deftly explains the technology behind these ultramodern computer crimes and shows how they’re committed.”--Annalee Newitz, Editor in Chief of io9.com
 
“With the tense drama and future shock of a William Gibson novel, Kevin Poulsen spins a scary-true tale of the dark-side hacker underground and its most adept sorcerer.”--Steven Levy, author of Hackers and Crypto
 
"The most thorough portrait to date of a top modern U.S. cyber criminal and an engaging tale of cops against robbers against other robbers. No one writes with more authority than Kevin Poulsen about how hackers actually go about their business."--Joseph Menn, author of All the Rave and Fatal System Error
 
“Building on the best of the police procedural tradition, Kevin Poulsen lays out in clear language the technologies and methods employed by the criminals and crime fighters alike, all the while crafting a sympathetic character study of the conflicted gray hat, Max Vision, at the heart of it all.”--Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard professor and author of The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It
 
“A superb, insider tour of the dark Internet that lies below "the whitewashed, commercialized" world of the Web. Kevin Poulsen is one of the very few people who understands the territory: the scammers, the scammers of the scammers, and the law enforcement officers trying to catch them. KINGPIN describes a parallel business world, including "the underground's first hostile takeover," where characters who call themselves names like DarkCyd and Matrix and Ghost23 battle for control of digital scams. It is a fascinating, scary ride.”--Ellen Ullman, author of Close to the Machine and The Bug
 


From the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

An award-winning investigative journalist, Kevin Poulsen oversees news and feature reporting at the technology news site Wired.com. Poulsen joined Wired.com in 2005, and for five years served as editor of the Threat Level blog, which under his tenure won the 2008 Knight-Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism, the 2010 MIN award for best blog and both Webby and People's Voice awards in 2011. In 2006, Poulsen conducted a computer-assisted investigation into the presence of registered sex offenders on MySpace, which spawned federal legislation. In June 2010, Poulsen and a co-writer broke the news that the government had secretly arrested a young Army intelligence analyst on suspicion of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to WikiLeaks. He is the author of Kingpin -- How One Hacker Took Over the Billion Dollar Cyber Crime Underground (Crown, 2011).

Customer Reviews

I found this book very well written.
Matthew J. Haslett
I highly recommend this book to anyone with only a slight interest in the subject.
Jan Kubi¨cek
Max Butler was both those personas, and 'Kingpin' is his story.
Loyd E. Eskildson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on February 23, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I bought this book yesterday after reading a synopsis about it on Wired; it was absolutely fantastic. The author takes the most important technological and cultural revolution of the last fifty years and pulls away the veneer to reveal a deep criminal underworld. With the colored perspective that only a former hacker could offer, the author delivers both a survey course in the rise and fall of phreaking and hacking communities, as well as a compassionate narrative regarding its willing victims. Although I work in the tech field, I immediately realized that it was in no way a pre-requisite for enjoying this piece. By focusing on characters and setting the author has done a terrific job of communicating the story without entangling the reader in unnecessary technical detail.
Every part disturbing as I hoped it would be, this book showcases how fragile the internet revolution has made sensitive data. I felt like I was reading Le Carre, the double agents, the betrayal, it was everything to remind myself that this is a true story. I have already recommended this to friends.
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52 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Richard Bejtlich on March 25, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I've read and reviewed almost all of the non-fiction computer crime and espionage books written since the 1980s. Kingpin by Kevin Poulsen is one of my favorites. I will recommend this book to fellow digital security professionals and those who would like insights into our world. Kingpin's coverage of Max Ray Butler's (MRB) constant entanglement with the dark side is a lesson for anyone contemplating using their skills for evil.

One of the reasons I enjoyed reading Kingpin is that I've been familiar with the case since 1998. Poulsen described how MRB exploited vulnerable BIND instances on Air Force and other DNS servers that year. I happened to be a captain in the Air Force CERT and worked with the analyst who discovered MRB's exploitation of Air Force name servers.

Because of my familiarity with this case (limited though it may be), I identified more than one instance where Poulsen seemed to take what I consider to be an unnecessarily "sympathetic" or "understanding" approach to MRB's actions. For example, if MRB acted in the best interest of the Air Force by exploiting and then patching DNS servers, he didn't need to leave a rootkit behind. Worse, he didn't need to return to the compromised systems via his rootkit and backdoor once his "work" was done. Poulsen didn't question MRB's stated motives by presenting a more reasonable explanation for this activity: MRB was a black hat and acted like one.

I noted more "sympathy" for MRB when Poulsen described the incident where MRB choked his girlfriend. Instead of saying MRB "choked his girlfriend," Poulsen wrote on p 11 that "Max began trembling. Then his hands were around her throat and he was pushing her down onto the mattress.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By WH on February 25, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Like the first reviewer, I read the excerpts on Wired.com and was instantly intrigued. The book offers a glimpse into the personalities of the digital underground and you quickly understand the compartmentalization that these characters had to construct to justify themselves in their acts.

There were times where I had to stop myself and readjust my frame of reference because it reads almost like fiction. There is incredible detail in the book that often painted a cloud of disbelief in my skeptical mind. It would be quite interesting to pour over the author's notes and sources, seeing where he may have injected a bit more creative license than the source material lent itself to, but I see that more as a compliment than criticism. The truth, as the saying goes, can be stranger than fiction.

The writing is very well done and would be a good read, even if you're not technically proficient in the world of digital security. To those that may mind, the book is uncensored from the over-the-top banter that is exchanged between these online personas. It can be gritty at times, but the unrestrained approach is very telling of the hubris in which the underground trades.

This is an excellent book and very educational on the security problems that we all face in the digital age. Get it. Read it. Gorge on it.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Mitnick on March 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Kevin was kind of enough to send me a galley version of Kingpin for review. In between writing my own book and trying to meet some serious deadlines, I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to read Kevin's book when in route to Europe.

Once I started reading Kingpin, it was difficult to put down; I wanted to know what would happen next.

I followed several of the book's characters in the media such as Max Butler, Jonathan James, and Albert Gonzales, so I was already interested in the subject matter. Kevin's skill as a writer came alive as he was able to turn Max Butler's tale into a thrilling adventure.

I highly recommend Poulsen's book to everyone. Great job, Kevin!

Kevin Mitnick
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By MyTwoCents on March 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is my first review for Amazon.com, I had enough thoughts on Kevin Poulsen's "Kingpin" to warrant sharing them. If you're reading this, you're likely thinking "Should I buy this book?" The answer is "absolutely yes" if you have any interest in the subject matter, "probably no" if you don't.

I say this because "Kingpin" was written for a very niche audience. It deals extensively with the topics of computer security, cybercrime, and identity theft. The book often dives into 1-2 page semi-technical explanations of computer viruses, security holes in networks, or tactics used by hackers. Occasionally there will be one or two lines of actual programming code thrown in. It's all integrated seamlessly into the main narrative. The book is also based on a true story and contains a detailed list of sources for the facts used in each chapter. You DO NOT actually need any computer background to enjoy and understand the book, since Poulsen masterfully explains complex concepts and technical terms, but interest in this kind of thing is a prerequisite. If you don't care for computers and have no interest in the history or methods of hacking, you will not get much out of the book. There are other crime thrillers that focus more on character development and would likely be better suited for the average reader, like several of John Grisham's books.

I bought this book because I am a first year college student thinking of majoring in Information Science. I had heard that this book provided a detailed history and authentic perspective on evolution of cybercrime and the computer security field, and I liked the idea of reading a novel and learning a few things along the way (I don't need another textbook in my life right now). The book surpassed my expectations!
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