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The Watchman: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin Poulsen


Written like a California noir thriller by way of William Gibson, The Watchman brings to life the wildest, most audacious crime spree in the history of cyberspace. Busted as a teenager for hacking into Pac Bell phone networks, Kevin Poulsen would find his punishment was a job with a Silicon Valley defense contractor. By day he seemed to have gone straight, toiling on systems for computer-aided war. But by night he burglarized telephone switching offices, adopting the personae and aliases of his favorite ...
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Written like a California noir thriller by way of William Gibson, The Watchman brings to life the wildest, most audacious crime spree in the history of cyberspace. Busted as a teenager for hacking into Pac Bell phone networks, Kevin Poulsen would find his punishment was a job with a Silicon Valley defense contractor. By day he seemed to have gone straight, toiling on systems for computer-aided war. But by night he burglarized telephone switching offices, adopting the personae and aliases of his favorite comic-book anti heroes - the Watchmen. When authorities found a locker crammed with swiped telecommunications equipment, Poulsen became a fugitive from the FBI, living the life of a cyberpunk in a neon Hollywood underground. Soon he made the front pages of the New York Times and became the first hacker charged with espionage. Littman takes us behind the headlines and into the world of Poulsen and his rogues' gallery of cyberthieves. Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews with Poulsen, his confederates, and the authorities, he spins a thrilling chase story on the electronic frontier. The nation's phone network was Poulsen's playground. On Los Angeles's lucrative radio giveaways, Poulsen worked his magic, winning Porsches and tens of thousands of dollars. He secretly switched on the numbers of defunct Yellow Pages escort ads and took his cut of the profits. And he could wiretap or electronically stalk whomever he pleased, his childhood love or movie stars. The FBI seemed no match for Poulsen. But as Unsolved Mysteries prepared a broadcast on the hacker's crimes, LAPD vice stumbled onto his trail, and an undercover operation began on Sunset Strip.

Drawing on exclusive interviews with serial killer Kevin Poulsen, who's currently serving time in federal prison, journalist Jonathan Littman takes readers along on the wildest, most colorful crime spree in the annals of cyberspace. 8 pp. of photos. 288 pp. Author publicity. Print ads. Online promos. 40,000 print.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An author's note explains that Littman stopped working on this book in midstream to write his popular account of infamous hacker Kevin Mitnick The Fugitive Game. There's no interruption in flow here, however, as the adventures of seasoned hacker Kevin Poulsen quickly escalate to a captivating pitch. Obsessed with telephones from his adolescence, Poulsen amasses vast knowledge of Pacific Bell's inner workings by breaking and entering-both virtually and actually. Wanted for espionage and other crimes, he goes underground in L.A. When the TV show America's Most Wanted decides to broadcast his mugshot to 14 million viewers, Poulsen tells his fellow hackers, "I guess I could knock out Channel Four"; as soon as the program goes on air, no one can call the FBI with leads: all 30 phone lines connected to the show's tip center are dead. Littman combines neat development of technical detail, a neutral gaze on a criminal's motivation and an unfailing sense of adventure. From this expertly woven narrative emerges a wholly absorbing portrait of the obsessive, Robin Hood-inspired hacker culture, as well as the realization that behind every great hacker there's a great story, at least if told by Littman. Photos not seen by PW. Mar.
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
Kirkus Reviews
Having chronicled the digital-data brigandage of the notorious Kevin Mitnick (The Fugitive Game, 1996), Littman casts a cool, discerning eye on Kevin Poulsen, who led law-enforcement agencies in a merry chase along the Information Highway.

Drawing on extensive interviews with 31-year-old Poulsen, his partners in crime, and the cops who chased them down, the author offers an absorbing, evenhanded portrait of the hacker as a dangerous young man. A technical virtuoso before he was out of his teens and in trouble with authorities early on, the disaffected young Californian (whose on-line alias, The Watchman, was taken from the antihero of a dark-side comic series) also held responsible programming jobs at both SRI and Sun Microsystems before his Pacific Tel break-ins and other computer felonies made him officially unemployed. Going outlaw on a full-time basis, Poulsen trespassed on the memory banks of machines linked by modem on the Internet, exposed the security weaknesses of government and university installations, played embarrassing pranks on rivals, and otherwise showcased his considerable talents for electronic wizardry. He rigged a contest run by an L.A. radio station (by diverting its phone lines) and collected a couple of Porsches as prizes. He also managed to ferret out wiretaps Big Brother's helpers (FBI, Secret Service, et al.) had planted on the ACLU, foreign consulates, suspected mobsters, and others. Despite his professed allegiance to a hacker code, Poulsen was not fastidious about profiting from his skills, putting them at the disposal of call-girl rings and shady private detectives. Eventually brought to book in 1990 on a wealth of charges, the chronic offender was allowed to cop a plea in the interests of protecting the feds' dirtier secrets.

An arresting account of the career of a New Age intruder whose capacity to strike at will mocks the very notion of computer privacy and security.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316528573
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 1/1/1997
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 376,883
  • Product dimensions: 0.81 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 9.00 (d)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2001

    Good book, but it could have been better.

    I saw an interview with Poulsen after his release from prison complaining about how poorly Littmann protrayed him in this book. While I tend to agree with Poulsen about his poor portrayal, I think that alot of his gripes are overblown. I didn't enjoy this book as much as Littmann's other hacker book (Fugitive Game) but I still would recommend it for those readers out there with an interest about hackers.

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