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Book Review: Kingpin

2011/11/19

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.

–Andrew Waite

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Categories: InfoSec, Reading
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