Written by journalist Kevin Poulsen (of wired.coms Threat Level blog), KingPin spans the hacking, cracking and carding underworld spread over several decades. The narrative covers the life and activities of Max Vision, a computer consultant, key member of the carding underworld and ultimately convicted criminal.
From the timescales involved, kingpin covers many years and several of Max’s ‘projects’ made national headlines at the time. Some, like the Pentagon being hacked via a weakness in BIND were folklore by the time I personally entered the infosec profession. While others, like the ongoing wars and takedowns between various carder forums were more recent and featured heavily in the press at the time.
The part of the book that I found fascinating throughout was that I was unaware that many of these, on the surface, unconnected stories were linked to the same individual; plus several more on the legal/whitehat side of the community, some of which I have used and experimented with prior to reading Kingpin, it’s usually interesting to get some of the backstory behind tools in this industry, but it’s especially the case with this backstory.
Equally, I found the portrayal of Max’ early years to be intriguing, reading Kingpin I had the feeling (rightly or wrongly), that the outcome of the story could have been different had a couple of actions and/decisions gone the other way, leaving Max as an asset to the infosec community rather than running one of the largest criminal forums on the net. Can’t help wondering if Max could have ended up being a positive force in the infosec community, or if those that are could have ended up going the same route had circumstances been slightly different.
From the right side of the law, I was fascinated with the details of Special Agent Mularski’s undercover work as Master Splyntr. Like a lot of the content of the book I was familiar with the impact Splyntr had had within carding community from several press articles at the time, but hadn’t dug in too much depth. Knowing more about the time and dedication required by one man that ultimately lead to many arrests I’d like to make an offer to Agent Mularski: if we’re ever in the same place, introduce yourself and the drinks are on me (and hopefully the war-stories are on you).
If you’ve got any interest in information security or crime in general, I’d strongly recommend that you put a few hours aside read Kingpin. If you’re disappointed after you finish I’ll be surprised.
Written by Microsoft’s Mark Russinovich, Zero Day focuses on the actions of a security consultant who starts a job for a client who’s systems have been infected with unknown malware and taking out of action. With the business losing money and circling the drain whilst it’s systems are out of action the characters rapidly find themselves caught up in a plot far large than they originally signed up for.
The scope of the plot starts out slow, and rapidly expands to cover a full gamut of topics, from skiddies in IRC channels and Russian hackers for hire, to corrupt government officials and Al Qaeda terrorist plots (even Bin Laden turns up in person). Dispite the Hollywood style plot elements, Russinovich keeps the technical aspects of the plot grounded in reality, even to the level that the odd code segment included can be reviewed by a (semi)proficient reader can determine the next plot arc before the characters reach the same conclusions.
The overall story, and the culture the characters operate in clearly show the difference between an author with a technical background and plenty of real world experience with the subject matter, over a proficient author who has had expert assistance to get the technical aspects of a story to a plausible level, and makes a very welcome change in this growing area of fiction. Russinovichs experience working with government and industry parties as part of the recent clampdown on botnets, the work in this area is a clear influence for the Zero Day story arc. Thankfully, Despite this being Russinovichs first novel I found it surprisingly well written, with believable characters and a plot that I became emotionally invested in (and without spoilers, cheered inside when a certain character got what I’d felt from first introduction that they deserved).
If you’ve got any interest in information security, computer/network administration to just good sci-fi I’d strongly recommend picking up a copy of Zero Day, it may be shorter that I would have liked (only because I want MORE) but I thoroughly enjoyed the time spent in its created scenario. Hopefully it will serve as a warning of what could happen, rather than a premonition of an actual occurrence; unfortunately it’s likely that those with the true power to stop events similar to the books plot won’t be interested in the story summary and will miss the warning.
— Andrew Waite