Joe's Reviews > Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground

Kingpin by Kevin Poulsen
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's review
Mar 26, 2012

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Read in March, 2012

This book explores part of the world of modern cybercriminals.

I tend to think of the "old school" of computer "criminals" as mostly people that were interested in technology, wanted to explore, and just didn't care laws -- but generally not interested in directly stealing money from people. At worst, they would profit by doing things that they didn't consider stealing: for example, taking over a radio station's phone lines to guarantee that they would win a call-in prize.

The newer versions of cybercriminals really are just interested in stealing money: getting lists of credit cards, and turning those into actual dollars. People have been abusing credit cards for as long as they've existed, but recently the criminal activity surrounding them -- stealing the numbers, producing fake credit cards, buying products, turning that into laundered money -- has become very organized.

And thus, this book: it describes some of the central players that helped set of some of the largest discussion forums and computer-based credit card fraud marketplaces: people could buy or sell cards, equipment, and services.

The book theoretically focuses on one, or a few, characters ("how one hacker took over...") but in reality, many of the people involved in organizing smaller criminals knew each other, and interacted on a regular basis, and this book describes many of them.

The topic is pretty incredible: the way that the criminals would wait for a new security flaw to be discovered, and then take a shotgun approach to snagging as many people as possible. If virtually all of the potential targets evaded the attack, no matter -- the net was cast so wide, a few would get taken in. Then, it's sort of fascinating to see how the people would operate: given that their career was theft, it's not surprising that they would turn on one another, but they do it so quickly -- even going so far as to attack each other's computers.

The book itself is not bad, but it does seem a little disorganized. The author was involved in the computer underground previously, and recently involved himself in the computer deception that eventually caused Bradley Manning to be arrested for involvement with Wikileaks, so he's got the right background -- I just wish the book itself had a little more focus.
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