Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Undergroundby Kevin Poulsen
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… See more details below
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.
Max "Vision" Butler—currently in a federal penitentiary—once sat atop a billion-dollar criminal empire trafficking in stolen credit-card numbers. How he got there and how the authorities finally managed to topple him is a harrowing tale shot through with technology and tragedy.
Butler was a just another American outcast working in Boise, Idaho in the late 1980s when the Internet began to take off. An incredibly gifted computer geek, he caught the gathering cyber wave—and could have ridden it all the way to untold riches. All he had to do was play it straight and use his incredible programming prowess for good instead of evil. Alas, that's something Butler found harder to do than cracking computer codes. He tried for a while, even becoming a "white hat" cyber-security consultant, but something about the black-market world of online thievery always called him back. In this complex story full of multifaceted machinations both mortal and machine, Wired editor Poulsen successfully sifts through Butler's many sordid capers. While the author avoids alienating readers who don't know their bits from their bytes, he also provides enough jargon for technophiles. Even though readers may not exonerate Butler for swindling so many for so long, Poulsen makes them care enough about him to wonder why he kept doing it.
A compelling ride.
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