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Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  7,370 ratings  ·  420 reviews
The true story of Max Butler, the master hacker who ran a billion dollar cyber crime network.

The word spread through the hacking underground like some unstoppable new virus: an audacious crook had staged a hostile takeover of an online criminal network that siphoned billions of dollars from the US economy.

The culprit was a brilliant programmer with a hippie ethic and a sup
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 22nd 2011 by Crown
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Average rating 3.95  · 
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 ·  7,370 ratings  ·  420 reviews

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Start your review of Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground
Nov 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Executive Summary: A fascinating and terrifying look at the darker underbelly of the internet and identity theft.

Full Review
I consider myself fairly knowledgeable about computers and the internet. Computer Security has never really been my thing though. Yet for whatever reason I find reading books about computer crime fascinating.

This book is no different. Kevin Poulsen has turned himself from one-time hacker into a leader in covering computer security. I occasionally read some of his articl
Sep 17, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, non-fiction
It's a little weird to file a book on my "history" shelf when the primary subject of the book was born less than 10 years before me and is still 2 years away from finishing his prison sentence, but things change fast in the Internet Age, and this book is a great example of that.

It's the story of a Max Butler, the kind of person that makes people use words like "troubled." I really did recognize an awful lot of Max's high-school days from my own circle of friends. I was a tame kid, but there were
Nick Black
Mar 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Nick by: Gary Warner
still too pissed off about my lost hour reviewing Hitch-22 to properly write; suffice to say that this is the best true hax0r crime book written as of April 2011 -- yes, i have read them all (previous title holder: The Hacker Crackdown. it pleases me to no longer need praise anything by confirmed mountebank Bruce Sterling, though he's been replaced by charlatan Kevin Poulsen....whom I think I must reassess).

so much nostalgia. i knew two characters, peripheral but named, personally, and half-expe
Jacques Bezuidenhout
This would be 3.5 Stars.

Although I really enjoyed the book, they seemed to have over simplified some things.

I'm not sure if it was the narrator or the biography form of the book, but the way it was told didn't quite grab and keep my attention, I found myself drifting away a lot.

Some things getting explained in the book like the Bind hack that didn't have a checksum and you could append extra bytes to the end of you post to run code, and the way they explained SQL injection was really well writte
Katherine Tomlinson
May 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Poulsen’s name may be familiar to those who follow cyber-crime. He was a notorious hacker in his own right before serving time and emerging a WIRED correspondent. He knows the sub-culture of hacking, and that really makes this story feel “inside.” This is not the most “active” story, but it is one, like SOCIAL NETWORK, that takes us inside the minds of some brilliant people; introduces us to an intriguing world; and plays out cops and robbers in an entirely new way. And in a time of wikileaks, t ...more
Jan 06, 2013 added it
Inside look at the cybercrime underworld, specifically carders (people who steal credit card information). Book is really well written and hard to put down, and additionally it actually manages to cover the technical parts in enough detail to be interesting without being boring. Book follows the life of Max Burton and how he came to rule the carding world. Interestingly, he started out with light stuff, got in trouble, and went white hat for a while. But when the FBI wanted him to inform on one ...more
Dec 31, 2015 rated it really liked it
Good read. Gives you insight into how fragile the swipe system of credit cards is. The USA was the only country left using it - because the cost of changing the system his higher than the losses in fraud. Thank you American banks - please may I have another. The US has finally moved to chip and sign. Hopefully, they will move to chip and pin soon to help further protect its citizens from identity and financial theft. Then again - the US is still on Imperial measurements...
Jim Crocker
Jun 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a real compulsive non-stop read for me. I am fascinated by computer geeky stuff to begin with. However, Kevin Poulsen's writing is pretty smooth. The book focuses on the exploits of ace-hacker Max Vision. After serving nine years in prison, Max will be getting out just before Christmas 2018, which is right around the corner. Now maybe he's already out now. I don't know. But that was what I read in the book.

My opinion is that all these hackers have pretty much destroyed the Internet, whi
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Unlike the "Kingpin" about Silk Road (by a different author), this is the book that I can recommend.

Yes, it is fictionalized, but fictionalization is not in-your-face, the author does not supply tons of dialogues or monologues to "help build the character", and best of all - book is decently sourced and comes with per-chapter references.

Yes, it does not go deep into technical details, but technical details are there - "zero-day RealVNC exploit" will be called just that, and there would be a refe
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great account of some of the carder underground, big carder sites, and scene drama. Particularly good because the author is from the underground and is now a journalist. Interesting too since I know a lot of the people and sites/systems involved.
Nov 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a quick read and it is really interesting to follow this guys story. Max Vision is fascinating to learn about, but equally interesting is learning about this huge intricate story that took place in our lives that we never knew anything about. I learned a ton about internet security through this book. It is a quick and interesting read.
Mar 26, 2012 rated it liked it
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 cy
Dec 25, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you're interested in cyber crime, hacking, online and banking security, this is definitely an interesting read. It mostly tries to be a biography of one of the more prominent hackers who ended up organizing a large group of cyber criminals. So if you enjoy biographies, this is also a quite well written one in my opinion. However, if you're like me, who doesn't enjoy biographies much and is only moderately interested in cyber crime, then it's just a decent book that tells a decent story with s ...more
May 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to ♥Xeni♥ by: Ala
Wow... what a powerful book! I noticed this on my friend's book update feed yesterday, searched around for an ebook, found one, started reading, and practically didn't even stop for much else. (Although there was a 16 hour break in between reading there :P)

Normally I don't like nonfiction books: they are dry, not engaging and just don't deal with subject matter in an interesting way that I can absorb readily. This book reads more like an action novel filled with tons of real life tidbits. I thi
Celeste Peterson
Sep 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
My mom passed this book to me, along with numerous others about computer espionage and hacking. This one was a quick and fascinating read - on that nearly made by blood boil to learn how easy software companies made it to hack our personal computers and gain our credit card numbers as far back as the 1980s. It details the effort of an amazing FBI man to bring down a brilliant cyber criminal Max "Vision" Butler, also known as Iceman online. It's a fascinating look at how mag-wipe credit cards wer ...more
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Fairly intersting book. The work done by Kevin Poulsen to find all the necessary materials for the basis of the book is really impressive. He tells about fraudulent life, which takes place right in front of common user's life - on the screens of our PCs. There are no classical war between mafia or gangs in this book. Instead, we see, how hackers keep doing their dirty deeds simply sitting on front of the screen. Nonetheless, the effects of this deeds sometimes cost much more, than any others. In ...more
Oleksiy Kovyrin
Oct 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Terrifying read... I've never realized how close the early years of my career as a systems administrator and developer took me to the crazy world of underground computer crime that was unfolding around us.

I've spent the past week wondering if doing what Max and other people in this story did is the result of an innate personality trait or just a set of coincidences, a bad hand the life deals a computer specialist, turning them into a criminal. For many people working in this industry, it is alw
May 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
On one hand you have a brilliant self taught programmer/hacker. On the other hand you have a relative child. And they are both the same person. At least that's how it appeared to me. Relatively few social skills and a need to prove himself, an absolutely brilliant flair for finding holes in computer security = lots of offended people and jail time. Still I quite enjoyed the story/history. In the end I was left wondering - obviously there were quite a few security holes out there in the emerging ...more
May 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A fast paced, easy, and interesting look at one of the largest credit card thieves and credit card theft forum operators around. Gives a good overview of how credit card breaches have happened, what businesses need to do to help prevent them, and how the feds have set up some pretty complicated stings to take down some of the people who perpetrate them. It may help that I have a tech background, but I found the book easy to read and follow, the technical explanations very good, and the book over ...more
Jamie Coldhill
Mar 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Only the Paranoid survive.
Every system or even encryption has a security loophole, you just have to know how to find it, exploit it and cover your tracks.

This is not a book for the paranoid or Internet Newbie. It will most likely scare the be-jesus out of them with regard to shopping with a credit card, especially online.

Recent IT Issues within Australian regarding the National Australia Bank and Commonwealth Bank will leave you deeply suspicious after reading this book. Buy gold and hide it und
Tom Lee
May 08, 2011 rated it really liked it
4 stars for its descriptions of how hackers work, and of the techniques they use -- this book explains what SQL injection is, for instance, and manages to do it in just a couple of extremely clear paragraphs. Really a marvelous achievement from that perspective.

But as a psychological portrait of a hacker, I don't think it achieves the heights it's aiming for. I can relate to some of the obsessive traits that seem to have driven Max. But I don't understand them any better for having read this.
Oct 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-read
This book is a fascinating chronicle of the rise, fall, rise, fall, rise, and then final fall of hacker Max Vision. Even though this book is a true account of Max's exploits, it reads like a fictional story in large parts. It's just riveting stuff to learn how Max moved from being a young punk hacker, to running massive identity and credit card theft schemes. Poulsen's writing is very clear and easy to follow. He isn't trying to be Truman Copete here, he's just relaying the story as he knows it, ...more
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cybersecurity
I really enjoyed this true crime book about the cat and mouse game of hackers who steal credit card numbers and resell them online. One thing I learned is that online companies do a better job of protecting your data. Most of the cards stolen were from brick and mortar stores with insecure point of sale machines.
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
An engaging and very well written true story, Kingpin immerses the reader into the world of Max Butler, his associates and adversaries, white and black hat hacking, and the billion dollar credit card fraud perpetrated against the financial institutions. Author Kevin Poulsen knows well his subject area and draws the reader into an absolutely fascinating narrative.
Mar 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
I would have loved to give it 4.5 star rating, very informative an interesting read, if you have ever wondered as I have how cyber crime works and what is actually done. Then this book is for you.

Thank you.
Nathaniel Dean
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very important read about Max Butler, one of the major credit card scammers of the internet age. It goes into detail about how credit cards get stolen and how easy it is. It'll make you paranoid about using your non-chip and pin cards for sure. ...more
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Probably more interesting to those who have an interest in technology and its methods, but I found this to be a fascinating journey through the technology underworld.
Jul 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So far, this is my favorite hacker story of the summer. Well written with a good pace and character development.
Dmytro Shteflyuk
Wow, what a ride. A terrifying story about the underworld, full of technical details, computer history and drama.
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
If Meyer Lanksy had gone straight, a contemporary of his noted, he could have rivaled Nelson Rockefeller. Maybe the same could be said for Max Butler, only a few years older than Mark Zuckerberg. Instead of becoming a billionaire, however, Butler’s genius and entrepreneurial risks landed him in prison for thirteen years with a $30 million dollar debt to pay off. Kingpin recounts his beginning as a teenager given to pranks, discovering the internet as a place with ample opportunities for play, an ...more
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Mr. Poulson is a former hacker turned technology journalist, focusing on computer security.

From Wikipedia:

"Poulsen has reinvented himself as a journalist since his release from prison, and sought to distance himself from his criminal past.

Poulsen served in a number of journalistic capacities at California-based security research firm SecurityFocus, where he began writing security and hacking news

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