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

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  530 ratings  ·  65 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 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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,
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
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
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
Sam Bauman
A pretty good and engaging read. Well, if you know what they're talking about. Otherwise, you probably won't like it.
Rick Howard
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
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
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
Joe White
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
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 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
Chris Wiley
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
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
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
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
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 1 of 5 stars  ·  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
Although a bit slow in places - this book took me a few months of casual reading to finish - this is a great primer for understanding the recent history (since 2000 or so) of cybercrime. Although written as a non-technical story the book is quite well researched and tells the story from the point of view of some of the key players. I have some quibbles with how a few of the big picture concepts are presented, but overall I enjoyed the book and will recommend it to colleagues.
Nate Davis
I can't seem to get enough of these computer and internet security books. This one does a nice job of showing how small time and casual cybercrime has merged with organized mob crime, and ultimately been institutionalized into a deniable branch of the armed forces for China, Russia, and Eastern Europe. It was interesting to learn that half of the credit card numbers in use today have likely been compromised, and could be cashed in at any moment.
A well researched account of Russian hackers who made (still make) millions of dollars by committing computer crimes. High-tech detective work, a Russian court room, Russian corruption, South American-based Internet gambling companies run by American ex-pats and a young tech-vigilante out to stop the criminals attacks, all feature prominently in the story.

The best part of the story, is that it is all true story.
Derek Tutschulte
I'd have to agree with the other reviewer in that the author's writing is a bit disjointed. I was willing to forgive the poor writing style, however, given that this book is chock full of so much research that ties together so many names I have pulled from the news over the years. The author was at the very least able to weave together what I had thought was a very complex cast of characters in the world of cybercrime.
I can sum up the book for you in one sentence. There are a lot of Russians creating denial of service attacks and other viruses but the US government is not doing anything about it.

I was hoping for a little more depth to this book. For example, I wanted to hear directly from the few hackers and other computer insiders who have been caught as to WHY they create all of this havoc.
Sam Motes
A story of the bad guys attacking other bad guys. The dark under world of quasi legal online gambling embrace it's wise guy roots to fight back when their business is threatened by blackmailing hackers bent on taking the house. The intrigue of the battle to bring down the hackers in a world wide game of hide and seek weaves a story that seems straight out of a Ian Fleming novel.
An excellent view into the world of internet crime in the early 2000s. The gradual transition from Windows and native apps to linux, Macs, and webapps should somewhat mitigate the threat of hackers and cybercriminals, but it's amazing how much damage has already been wrought.

I'd definitely recommend this book for anyone who uses a computer on a regular basis. :P
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This is a really excellent book... 1 8 Dec 30, 2010 09:40AM  
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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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