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Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who Are Bringing Down the Internet

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  718 Ratings  ·  79 Reviews
In this disquieting cyber thriller, Joseph Menn takes readers into the murky hacker underground, traveling the globe from San Francisco to Costa Rica and London to Russia. His guides are California surfer and computer whiz Barrett Lyon and a fearless British high-tech agent. Through these heroes, Menn shows the evolution of cyber-crime from small-time thieving to sophistic ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published October 26th 2010 by PublicAffairs (first published 2010)
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Apr 17, 2010 JBradford rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: JP, Stacy, everyone
When I started making entries for GoodReads, I noted that the 5-step rating system was flawed, in that the lowest rating had to be for books so bad that I would in effect be telling people not to bother with these, and that the highest rating had to be for must-read books I felt everyone should read. This left only the three intermediate ratings, which hence automatically meant that the middle 3-star rating had to be for books that ranged from acceptable to well worth reading, the preceding 2-st ...more
Mar 18, 2010 Donald rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, but read it based on reviews. I'm aware that I am bucking the trend here, but I didn't much care for this book.

First of all, the book desperately needed a technical editor. The author used an extensive technical vocabulary, but frequently misused terms. As one who works with technology, I found this distracting. I wasn't expecting a technical manual, but did expect the book to be accurate.

More importantly, however, the author failed to capture the exc
Joe White
Jun 07, 2011 Joe White rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-shelf, techread
Thank goodness for Goodreads reviews and bookswap. Reading the prior reviews I had low expectations for this book, and through swap I only wasted money on the postage.
The book can almost be divided into 3 segments. The author seems to only have interviewed two main participants against internet crime, and came away with an incomplete and incoherent understanding of any details of the problem. He almost attributes all the evil on the internet as having a denial of service as the source. Even duri
Rob Warner
Positively chilling to realize how rampant crime is on the Internet, perpetrated by both criminals and foreign governments. Startling also to realize how big a target we Americans are--again, both for criminals and for foreign governments. Reading this will help you understand how treacherous the Internet is, and help you imagine how many people are gunning for your credit card numbers, your money, and your identity.

This book also portrayed how easily criminals get away with what they're doing,
Amar Pai
Some interesting stuff in here, mainly around organized crime linked-hackers using botnets to extort "grey market" businesses (gambling, porn, etc) via distributed denial of service attacks. I find that whole ecosystem fascinating.

The book goes into detail about the various scandals that happened w/ online poker (remember how that was a huge thing? I had a friend who bought a motorcycle that way and another who made his living that way) i.e.

The Absolute Poker Cheating Scandal Blown Wide Open
Kevin Kirkhoff
Dec 30, 2014 Kevin Kirkhoff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book centers around two cyber warriors, American Barrett Lyon and Englishman Andy Crocker, and their tracking “Russian” computer hackers. It seemed to me that Barrett’s focus was on stopping the attacks, while Andy tracked the perps down and prosecuted them. Barrett spent a lot of time assisting offshore gambling websites that had been subjected to DDoS attacks. If I’m understanding things, a DDoS attack is when multiple computers barrage a single server requesting service, overwhelming it ...more
Jari Pirhonen
Great inside look at Internet crime and two persons tracking these criminals out. Book tells the stories of Barrett Lyon and Andy Crocker.

Barret was a whiz kid, who fought against numerous DDoS attacks and tried to build a security business of it. Since most DDoS targets were online casinos and betting sites, the book gives also a look at hazy backgrounds of some well-known online poker-sites.

Andy was a seasoned agent from UK National Hi-Tech Crime Unit, who tracked down several criminals behi
Jan 19, 2014 Sulayman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Actually a pretty interesting book, the story starts with offshore gambling companies getting attacked by mysterious hackers who demand protection money or the site gets taken offline (and does). They scramble to hire a new star programmer, Barrett Lyon, who manages to foil the hackers and block further attacks, eventually getting swamped with so many requests from other companies to do the same, that he builds his own successful software firm. That story was reported in WIRED magazine, but the ...more
May 04, 2015 Technutz rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
I was half way though this book when I had to stop. It was reading like a history book rather than a story like it had started with the main character Barrett Lyon. I recognized some of the facts he was quoting in the book as real. It was then I went back to check and this book was listed on Wikipedia as non-fiction. Doah!

Then the book started to make sense when I started processing the facts in the story as non-fiction.

This problem with this book is the description and cover leads the reader t
Feb 11, 2015 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: malware, ddos
This is primarily the story of a young entrepreneur Barrett Lyon and his how he turned his childhood ailment into a successful career in computers. The book starts with Barrett being referred to help South American online casinos against Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks. These casinos were being extorted by hackers and unless they paid up their business would be shut down. The book discusses in detail how he founded Prolexic Technologies, a successful DDOS protection company which wa ...more
Wade Brooks
If you think the Internet is secure in any way, shape or form you should probably read this book (non-fiction). This is not about the old school hacking talents of Cap'n Crunch (John Draper), Phiber Optik (Mark Abene), or Condor (Kevin Mitnick) but a syndicated group of virus writers who have gone professional. It is a world wide epidemic of extortion and identity theft, primarily based in Russia and neighboring city states. The US Government has ranked it the largest and most important criminal ...more
Sam Bauman
Apr 05, 2010 Sam Bauman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pretty good and engaging read. Well, if you know what they're talking about. Otherwise, you probably won't like it.
Scott Holstad
Fatal System Error is an absolutely scary as shit, totally frightening book about today’s hackers and their ties to the Russian mob and how billions of US dollars in terms of identity theft and credit card fraud make their way to the Russian Mafia through this new breed of hacker. The author is a technology journalist who is a decent writer and the book could have been good, and at times, is, but it has some major flaws as well. First through, Menn, the author, traces the lives and paths of new ...more
Rick Howard
Apr 05, 2015 Rick Howard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
See full review at my blog site:

If you are interested in the evolution of cyber crime, Fatal System Error is a good first reference. The author, Joseph Menn, is able to capture the early years as the cyber criminal community was just beginning to productize its cyber business, to professionalize it so that it ran more like a business. He tells the story through two early cyber security practitioners: a very young Barrett Lyon—a cyber security services businessman w
May 03, 2010 E rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Internet has become the ultimate mob hangout, a dangerous venue where U.S. Mafiosi, vicious Russian gang members and illegal hackers from many nations, especially from Eastern Europe, ply their dirty deeds. Cybersecurity reporter Joseph Menn examines cybercrime, exposing the bad guys while telling exciting stories about two intrepid investigators – Barrett Lyon, a U.S.-based “white hat” security hacker, and Andy Crocker, a British cybersecurity agent – who have successfully waged war against ...more
Dec 30, 2011 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joseph Menn's latest book concerns the escalating threats posed by criminal spamming, phishing and extortion aimed at the internet during the first decade of this century. He is well suited to reporting on the complex issues of international crime making up this story. He has covered security and technology issues for over ten years with the "Financial Times" and the "Los Angeles Times". He is a two-time finalist for the Loeb Award and won a "Best in Business" award from the Society of American ...more
Jan 18, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book taught me a great deal about the current state of cyber warfare and how it evolved from the money laundering and illegal gambling industry continued by today's mobs. I had no idea that mobs were still out to get money in shady ways that hurts people and destroys lives. As far as state-sponsored cyber crime, I had some idea that Russia and China were the leaders, but I didn't realize how current these threats are to the real-world.

As one of the creators of the Internet is quoted to say
George Dobbs
Jan 22, 2011 George Dobbs rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those interested in current affairs
This book provides a readable history of crime on the internet, starting with the denial of service attacks against gambling sites, moving on to identity theft attacks and ending on the chilling notes of cyber-war. The initial tale is told through the eyes of a couple of individuals working on the side of good who were successful in tracking and even prosecuting a few of those working on the side of evil. They are hampered on every turn by ignorance, incompetence and inconsistency among police a ...more
Menn's book documents our new century's Denial of Service (DoS) attacks on Internet sites and it looks at some current trends in cybercrime. Pretty scary stuff...

Early chapters follow Barrett Lyon as he becomes a master at warding off DoS attacks and how this directly leads him into two shady worlds:

The world of internet gambling sites and their Mafia connected bosses, whose high money attraction made them a natural attack target and Lyon's expertise a welcome salve, and second,

The underworl
LeeAnn Heringer
Note to self: stop reading books recommended by BoingBoing. This was written in the "See Dick Run" style so beloved by American journalists where they tell you something, give you 2, 3, 4 examples and then tell you again. He is desperate in need of a good editor with a nice sharp, red pencil. And unfortunately by the time you wade through all this repetition, he starts singing the EFF story about how the only good software is open source and all software companies must certify that their product ...more
Christopher Goodrich
A must read for all cyber-security types, even on the NSA must read list. This is one of only a handful of books that I have as a digital copy on my iPad, as well as one of the few true-fact books that I can't seem to put down. Joseph Menn did a spectacular job of transforming a very boring and much abused topic into a thought-provoking story. Most, unfortunately, will still continue to live in denial regarding the facts presented by this book, but I attest to the absolute certainty that the wor ...more
Mar 25, 2015 Dan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
There is no story here, just an adequately written history of Internet crime with a few characters with little to no bearing of the 'story'. The time line's all over the place and unless you want to hear some outdated stories about what corrupts the interweb, you'd be best off going for something like The Blue Nowhere which is a great IT-based thriller.
Chris Wiley
May 24, 2014 Chris Wiley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a wonderful book, a true story about hunting computer crime lords. It goes on to talk about some of the things they did to hold companies hostage and extort money from them and what law enforcement and others did to help stop it.

Truly worth reading to understand modern hacking and botnets and such.
Kevin Johnson
Oct 27, 2013 Kevin Johnson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting book that combines a good amount of basic technical details around the security problems facing us today, from governments and from criminals. It reads pretty well even without the tech details based on the dual perpective of Andy in law enforcement, and Barrett from the capital technology side. With all the trouble it takes to chase down problems technically, to have the added issues of cultural disconnects make this a fight that the book shows must be attack from political, soci ...more
Aug 02, 2013 Joni rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fatal System Error is a fairly well-written account of the evolution of the virtual underworld during the first decade of the new century. It weaves a web connecting the remnants of the American mafia delving in online gambling, the russian mob-related spamming and ddos-ing experts, and the individual war of an American and a British against them. The author concludes with a sweeping review of the superpowers in a possible cyberwar - namely the threat of Russia and China - as well as a descripti ...more
Karen Mardahl
I think this was a good and important story, but the style brought down my rating. I felt the style was a bit jumbled. First, you are introduced to one cyber-crime-fighter. Then, you are introduced to another. The way the story flowed, I assumed the two would meet up. I ended up feeling like I read two stories that happened to be told back-to-back. I even thought the story could be trimmed to be a "long-read" article online.

I think if someone asked me for a real-life cyber thriller, I'd rather r
This book was recommended by award-winning IT journalist Davey Winder, whose columns I have read for many years. It's very interesting but the writing was a little disappointing, it jumped around a lot in an attempt to keep things moving but just felt disjointed.

What bugged me most about the Kindle edition was the formatting. I imagine that the paper version includes footnotes within the text - the Kindle version does not. I got about 80% through and found the book ended and the remainder was m
Apr 17, 2011 Anthony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting look at some of the largest DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks, credit card thefts, viruses, spyware, and other cybercrimes. It does a good job of making an investigation that's conducted largely from behind computer screens exciting. More importantly, it raises serious concerns about the US and other country's lack of concern about cybersecurity, given both it's role in our economy and the potential for cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare. It also argues convincingly that R ...more
Jun 11, 2013 A13xa9dr1a rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tech
A winding review of the global security issues of the internet told in the style of "follow the money." Menn illustrates how in multiple industries in multiple governments, the underlying infrastructure of the Internet is becoming significantly more vulnerable than the gen pop realizes. This problem is even more difficult to solve now because it wasn't being taken seriously at an earlier phase and now the cyber criminals are working much more quickly and smartly with more monetary and political ...more
Jul 19, 2010 Shawna rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: individuals researching this topic only
Well, I finally got back to this book after getting sidetracked with a new release from one of my favorite authors. I returned to Fatal System Error, and after reading about one third of this book I finally decided it just wasn't going to improve (and I have too many other books that I would rather read). This real life computer crime novel is full of facts, figures and new characters...TOO MANY. I never got "hooked"...never could relate to the many characters. What I read was an account told wi ...more
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This is a really excellent book... 1 8 Dec 30, 2010 09:40AM  
  • Cyberwar: The Next Threat to National Security & What to Do About It
  • Counter Hack Reloaded: A Step-By-Step Guide to Computer Attacks and Effective Defenses
  • Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground
  • Inside Cyber Warfare: Mapping the Cyber Underworld
  • Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet
  • Steal This Computer Book 4.0: What They Won't Tell You about the Internet
  • The Wikipedia Revolution: How a Bunch of Nobodies Created the World's Greatest Encyclopedia
  • No Tech Hacking: A Guide to Social Engineering, Dumpster Diving, and Shoulder Surfing
  • Masters of Deception: The Gang That Ruled Cyberspace
  • Stealing the Network: How to Own a Continent
  • Worm: The First Digital World War
  • Hacking: The Art of Exploitation
  • Secrets and Lies: Digital Security in a Networked World
  • The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It
  • On the Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore
  • Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness, and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier
  • Nightwork: A History of Hacks and Pranks at MIT
  • Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World
Joseph Menn’s third book, "Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who are Bringing Down the Internet," was published in the US in January 2010 and in the UK in February 2010 by PublicAffairs Books. Part true-life thriller and part expose, it became an immediate bestseller, with Menn interviewed on national television and radio programs in the US, Canada and elsewhere. Menn has spoken ...more
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