Sunday, 22 May 2011

Book Review: Kingpin by Kevin Poulsen

As regular readers will know I have an abiding fascination with hacking and hackers, both the people and the technology. Good books about hacking are extremely rare however, comprehension of the topic is extremely poor, witness the endless poor debate about cyber warfare. So when I came across Kingpin I was intrigued and I'm glad I made the effort.

Kingpin explores the world of hacking, both legal and illegal, through the life story of "Iceman", a man who skirts both sides of the coin.

It helps that Poulsen is himself a former hacker (I'm always curious as to whether you can be a former hacker, since its primarily dependent on personal interest). He doesn't shy away from technical terminology or do any favours to the reader.

Despite being a highly technical book it doesn't lack for intrigue or pacing. Ultimately this is a fast paced, fascinating exploration of a world which few people have access to. It charts a history which basically doesn't exist anywhere else, the emergence of modern cybercrime.

To me the most interesting sections of the book is the interplay between the law and the criminals. The ultimate lesson is that the law is barely able to cope at any stage with this new field. Criminals are consistently ahead of the law, and it takes a vast amount of resource in order to bring down small numbers of criminals. Time and again tiny mistakes or misunderstandings allow cybercriminals to walk free.

Its strangely hard to empathise with any of the characters in the book, as by and large they are all criminals, but that doesn’t make them any less fascinating. They continue to evolve and adapt to the changing world in which they find themselves page by page.

As governments around the world continue to create aggressive and reactive laws to deal with exactly these sorts of problems it would be wise to take the time to read this book to place the changing world in the correct context. This is a global criminal network, with no centre, only individuals.

An excellently written and elegant narrative of the hacking world, this is a must read for anyone interested in cybercrime, cyberwar or hacking.
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