Kingpin book review

Posted on 07 Jul 2011 in category Books

Kevin Poulsen (senior editor of writes here a wonderful and exciting at the same time real story.
In Kingpin a clear picture is given on how a genius IT loner, Max Ray Butler.  He has initially an unstoppable ambition to become an excellent "white hat" hacker "Max Vision" in 1997, but soon goes further and as "black hat" "Iceman" ends up in a very profitable online organized crime-world, where he collected and sold more than 1.8 million credit card data.

What makes this story very special, is that this Max Butler manages hack & destroy fellow hackers of their digital loot and even manages to rip off all online American, European and Russian cyber crime markets through a hostile hack to merge them into one super forum ("Carders Market") for reliable buying and selling of stolen credit card data ("dumps"), identities and accessories (blank plastic cards, holograms, etc.). You can verify this by looking at

The weirdness of this book is that the writer himself was 5 years in prison for hacking, which means that he writes with experience on the subject but in a clear manner. It is obvious that the author really has acquired an insight in the motives of Max Butler, but at the same time provides a worrying picture of a parallel cyber crime underworld that is complex, paranoid, greedy and even violent.

The book explains how hackers use relatively simple ways to steal digital information from other computers and abuse the information on large scale (phishing, wireless hacks, skimming, SQL injection, spear phishing, etc.). Sometimes the writer gives the impression that he understands the motives of Max Butler and provides a picture of the "naive" end-users or "bad" companies when it comes to IT security organisation and enforcement. While reading this book I regularly thought that psychologists will have a huge task with this Max Butler character.

In addition to following the hacker and his henchmen with their own personalities, double play ("white hat"-"black hat" switches) and hacking activities, there is also a lot of attention in this book to the police agents and how they actually hunted Max Butler and the Cybercrime networks and eventually got him in 2007. Especially the detailed information about the interactions between the various hacker groups, hacking methods, numerous news facts and references and even exact prices for selling types of credit cards (such as $ 125 Visa Business, $ 45 American passport) reads very smoothly without needing a heavy technical background or without listing a lot of unnecessary technical details.

The book shows how easy our digital information can fall into wrong hands, but also how innocent IT jokes can escalate to heavy IT crimes with serious consequences that ultimately result in heavy prison sentences. Finally, I would like to mention that there is an episode of the TV series "Numb3rs" (season 6, episode 7, ShadowMarkets) inspired by the story of Max Butler.

Kingpin is a really well written IT book around modern cyber crime and an absolute must-read for all those interested in information & IT security.


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