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The Watchman: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin Poulsen Hardcover – March 31, 1997

3.8 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This is a first-rate detective story--and all true. It's the story of a seemingly invincible electronic thief, con man, and stalker--and the people who tracked him down. Jonathan Littman brings his readers straight into the world of cyberpunk crime as he shows the origins, development, and climax of the wildest and most audacious known crime spree in cyberspace. Hundreds of hours of interviews allow Littman to tell much of the story through the eyes of those who lived it, and his own edgy style and excellent pacing make for a thriller that's hard to put down.

From Library Journal

Littman (The Fugitive Game: Online with Kevin Mitnick, LJ 1/96) takes us inside the mind of yet another notable computer hacker. Kevin Poulsen electronically seized the phone lines of a major Los Angeles radio station to make certain he was the 101st caller. Over time, he won two Porsches, $22,000 in cash, and two trips to Hawaii. He was caught and charged with numerous computer and telephone crimes, the most serious of which alleged that he obtained a classified document from a military database. Poulsen became the first computer hacker in history to be charged with espionage, and in all he was charged with 19 counts of computer fraud, wiretapping, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Littman offers a perspective on the social phenomenon of hacking in addition to the intricate legal and privacy issues involved here. Relying on interviews with both hackers and pursuers, pages of court filings, court transcripts, and associated documents, the author blends narrative with action in this riveting account of digital malfeasance. Recommended.?Joe Accardi, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; 1st edition (March 31, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316528579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316528573
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #382,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I became interested in Kevin Poulson after reading several articles about his exploits. After learning about this new book from Jonathan Littman, I emailed the author for sources of more information. He (of course) advised that I purchase his two books on The Kevins: 1) "The Fugitive Game: Online With Kevin Mitnick", and 2) "The Watchman: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin Poulsen". I ordered the two books, along with "Cyberpunk: Outlaws and Hackers on the Computer Frontier" by John Markoff and Katie Hafner.
I read Jonathan Littman's two books first, and was very excited with the stories, and his factual presentation. His writing style is an excellent fit for the type of story he is telling. It was obvious that Littman researched the facts and presented them in an unbiased manner. I liked that he presented both the technical information and the human elements of the stories. I also liked that he exposed many myths and controversy regarding the players in the stories, like John Markoff's getting involved in the chase for Mitnick, crossing the ethical boundary between journalism and law enforcement.
I then read "Cyberpunk" by Markoff and Hafner. Boy, what a difference! Where Littman was factual, Markoff was more into storytelling. I cannot say who's right (I wasn't THERE), but Markoff just didn't come across as complete and factual, especially in light of Littman's comments on his questionable involvement in Mitnick's capture. I did, however, love Markoff's telling of the rtm story (Robert Tappan Morris - the sendmail internet worm guy). I'd give this book 3 stars.
I'd like to take a moment to comment on some other reviews that I think are unfair or inaccurate.
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Format: Hardcover
I had no idea who Kevin Poulson was when I picked up this book. All I knew was that I wanted to read a book which dealt with computer hackers and this book had been recommended to me by a friend of mine. Suffice to say I was not disappointed.
Littman writes a compelling story about Kevin Poulson, who is perhaps the second best known hacker in North America best Kevin Mitnick. And what makes this book such an interesting read is that it is a modern day, and real life, version of the Fugitive. But unlike the Fugitive, Kevin is hunted to tapping in to phone systems and learning much more about the telephone networks than the average, non-telco employee, should be allowed to.
The book is filled with first hand accounts and funny anecdotes of the escapades that Kevin and some of his company managed to pull off. After reading the book, I was left scratching my head in disbelief. It was almost as if the feats Kevin was able to accomplish were too good to be true. But in the end, that's what makes this book so great.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book interesting on several levels. It's about
our telecommunications system, about a few people's ethics
abusing the power of that system, and about the state of
enforcement against violations of that system. All done
in a readable accounting of a small cast of characters' actions over a fifteen year period.

It's a difficult task to make day-to-day events readable,
much less involving. Littman has done a credible job here,
describing the exploits of a clique with a combination of
smarts, talent, and a moral code in which authority plays
much farther down the list than does knowledge, capability
or skill in manipulation.

What I find amazing in this recount is the ineptitude of
the investigative and law enforcement arms of local, state
and federal agencies in bringing a case against Poulsen.
Littman presents a balanced view of the criminal and the system against which the crimes were commited. Until the
maintainers and protectors of these systems admit their
vulnerabilities, phone phreaking of this magnitude will
increase, not decrease, in an ever digitally-conscious world. That the Attorney General was not able to make a
more compelling case--if all of Littman's accounts, or
Kevin's recall of them are true--speaks more to what the
Government and the Pacific Bell want to keep quiet.

That a person of Poulsen's ethics, curiosity and talent hacked PacBell offices isn't surprising (it's where the data is, to paraphrase Willy Sutton), that he did it repeatedly and for so long--physically and electronically--should make any citizen concerned for their privacy.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Watchman is a journalistic biography of hacker Kevin Poulsen who, during the 80s and 90s hacked into the telephone network and could control most of it himself. I felt the book was exceptionally well written and it was hard for me to stop reading ones I started. It is based on reality but reads quite much like a good novel (and, I do not know how much of the reality was real). I finished the book reasonably fast as I constantly was curious about what would happen next.

I won't tell too much about the book, except for its beginning and rough story. The book starts with teenager Kevin getting to know phone phreaking (blue-boxing) and he starts to learn about how the telephone networks works. He works together with his friend Ron Austin, but unfortunately they get caught... Kevin, being underage, isn't charged and starts to work as a programmer at Stanford Research Institute (the Dough Engelbert one!). He does continue his hacking with some new partners, but eventually get caught again.

While he is being charged, he continues to learn to be a better at controlling the telephone network... the rest of the story, I'll leave for the reader to read, though I can say that I found it all quite fascinating.

I enjoyed the book a lot and would (and have) recommended it to others who are interested to know about Kevin's hacks (again, not claiming it to be fact, but it is about the only book about Kevin at the moment). So, if you are interested in biographies of hackers, Watchman is definitive recommended.
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