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

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



The Pequod Review:

Kingpin profiles Max "Ray Vision" Butler, a talented Idaho-based computer programmer who in the 1990s and early 2000s turned to cybercrime and would eventually preside over a black market empire that bought and sold millions of stolen credit card numbers. Kevin Poulsen's narrative is a gripping one and he does a good job describing the world of computer hacking — including how stolen credit card numbers are monetized, how victimized corporations keep the news of their vulnerabilities from leaking out, and how law enforcement tries to penetrate the black market community. Poulsen sometimes includes some interesting details on how frauds originate: 

As he looked around the computer, he realized the PC was acting as the back-end system for the point-of-sale terminals at the restaurant—it collected the day’s credit card transactions and sent them in a single batch every night to the credit card processor. Max found that day’s batch stored as a plain text file, with the full magstripe of every customer card recorded inside. Even better, the system was still storing all the previous batch files, dating back to when the pizza parlor had installed the system about three years earlier.

Too often though, Poulsen doesn't go into enough technical detail to explain how Butler and others penetrated computer systems. In the end, the reader is unfortunately left with only a general sense of how hackers truly operate.