Archive | April, 2011

Book Review : Kingpin: The Hacker Who Took Over the Billion Dollar Cyber Crime Underground

9 Apr

This much niche book came in my purview when I started searching for hackers and books related to hackers, after I completed the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson. One of the characters in the three books is Lisbeth Salander, who is a top class computer hacker. The kind of hostile takeover of another person’s machine was her specialty.

As a kid I used to read a lot about hacking, did programming, wanted so much to be a hacker. I used to go to the cracks and hacks website every now and then, using my 56kbps modem internet connection that would drop off every now and then. The slow connection and the relatively low exposure to internet in India, and in the town I hail from, probably was the reason I was never able to know or learn more about hacking. It was most possible that if I had access to internet in my very early years as a kid, I would definitely have become at least an amateur hacker

This book gives a clearcut picture about the credit card frauds that haunted the US, Russia and the FBI in the 2000’s. Got to know about white hat hacking, black hat hacking, credit card frauds, loopholes, backdoor trojans and orifices. If you have studied computers anytime in your life, you would get these concepts and would get bored if you are a total non-nerd.

It is surprising that people exploited the technological disabilties of the computer systems in the early lifetime of the computer networks and internet, so easily. They actually built empires of fraudulent credit card, debit card and all type of identity selling.

The book also discusses about various websites like darkmarket.ws, cardersmarket.com that were pinnacles of these frauds. Global networks of swindlers and grifters on the internet who were scavengers and hunters for any unprotected identity lying around or an ope door to get inside on the computer networks. Hostile takeovers using backdoor trojans was such a prevalent event at that time. Remote control softwares and VNC softwares were flawed and could be used to get inside the computer.

There were many loopholes that were exploited by the hackers viz IE, VNC softwares, Point of Sale softwares, magstripe (the black strip on the card, which is easy to imitate), SQL injections etc.

This is story of Max Butler and similar other computer geeks who were addicted to hacking, but did not find the right "white" job for their skills. They had an inherent want to search for broken systems and try and fix them. The feeling of profiting from this came after they had to earn money but couldnt do it, or may be they were in love with hacking more than legitimate work

Max’s story of staying invisible behind his own computer and at the same time breaking into systems to flush out credit card identities and sell it out to the fraud CC market is unbelievable. You only see it in movies. What’s more interesting is to learn that running an underground cybercrime market is not so easy. Max did it, and also took over its competitors. He took down rival forums engaged in the same business.

When one programmer named Mark Zuckerberg was busy building a global socian network called Facebook, there was another master programmer and hacker called Max Butler who was builder and underground social network and forum to facilitate black trade. If you have noticed, a lot of banking security and online transaction related issues started getting addressed from 2008. There has been a tremendous shift in the amount of security that happen online these days, although the "swipe" based transactions at retail store still remain the same. The global effect of the fraud was realized by all the major banks who were affected by the cybercrime.

Kevil Poulsen has been very straight to the facts and using very simplistic vocab has put across facts and figures about the whole incident that took place over the span of around 7-8 years, including multiple imprisonments for Max Butler, and his rise and fall in the dark side

This book will remain one of my most cherished reads of all time.

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Book Review : Millenium Series by Steig Larsson

8 Apr

Finally finished with all the 3 books under the Millennium Series by Steig Larsson

In my previous post here I had quoted the first book in the series : The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

The story surrounds a girl suffering from Aspergers syndrome, but is subjected to varying levels of mental, physical and sexual torture for all her child life. The surrounding conspiracy related to an underground spy, a fraud businessman, a new post editor and owner who is hell bent upon finding out truth, and a lot of other consipiracies that are entangled together.

First book deals with the discovery of the girl, Lisbeth Salander, when Blomkvist is on a mission to unravel the truth behind a mysterious disappearance of a girl, which in turn leads to events and findings that are truly mysterious.

The second book, The Girl who played with Fire, deals with the story of the girl, her sufferings and the major event that builts her criminal image in the media

The third and final book, The Girl who kicked the Hornet’s Nest, deals with the search for truth and confrontation by Lisbeth of all the truths. Her fight fo survival and life and justice, where the other character play a major role.

You cannot keep the book down, its not just possible. In my case I would say I couldnt keep my iPhone down.

Steig Larsson has created the masterpiece in such an eloquent manner that with every page, you are presented with so minute details that you are watching a movie getting build inside your head, the characters seem to act in front of your eyes.

Technical aspects used in the book related to hacking, business, reporting, policework and psychology are synced with care to create non-incredible effect. Very logical and very connected from start till end, the book has all the aspects viz. mystery, murder, thriller, courtroom drama, detective work, sex, psychopaths, hacking etc

One of the best reads I had in years in fiction category