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Once one of the FBI’s most wanted hackers, Kevin Poulsen turned his life around to become an award winning journalist and one of the world’s top consultants on cyber crime. He is the author of the highly acclaimed true crime novel, Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion Dollar Cybercrime Underground, which served as the basis of the 2015 movie Blackhat.
Known by federal law enforcement as “the Hannibal Lector of cyber crime” Poulsen pulled stunts such as taking over phone lines to win a Porsche and hacking into FBI computer databases to publicly reveal details of wiretaps on foreign embassies, mobsters, and the American Civil Liberties Union. After serving five years in federal prison, he reinvented himself as a journalist writing for WIRED as well as a California based web start-up called SecurityFocus. As an investigative reporter, he used his deep understanding of the hacking world to break nationally significant stories before the mainstream press. His computer assisted research led to the exposure and arrests of child sex offenders prowling MySpace as well as new federal legislation.
Currently Poulsen serves as the senior editor of WIRED and a Hollywood consultant. His insider knowledge of how and why hackers attack make him an invaluable expert on security in the digital world and an unmatched speaker on the topic.
Kevin Poulsen is a former computer hacker, whose best known hack involved penetrating telephone company computers in the early 1990s to win radio station phone-in contests. By taking over all the phone lines leading to Los Angeles radio stations, he was able to guarantee that he would be the proper-numbered caller to win, for example, $20,000 in cash, and a Porsche 944 S2 Cabriolet.
When the FBI started pursuing Poulsen, he went underground as a fugitive. He was featured on NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries, and was finally arrested in April 1991 after 18 months on the run. He pleaded guilty to computer fraud and served a little over 5 years in prison. At the time, it was the longest U.S. sentence ever given for hacking.
Following his release from prison Poulsen was briefly barred from using computers. Reformed, but still possessed of the curiosity that contributed to his hacking when he was younger, he became a journalist. His first magazine feature ran in WIRED in 1998, and covered computer programmers who were driven to survivalist tactics by fear of the looming Y2K bug.
When Poulsen’s court supervision expired, he joined a California-based web start-up called SecurityFocus as editorial director in 2000, and began reporting security and hacking news. Poulsen repeatedly broke stories of national importance that were picked up by the mainstream press: a computer intrusion at a U.S. hospital that, for the first time, breached patient medical records ; hackers “war driving” for open Wi-Fi networks; a computer virus crippling a safety system at a nuclear power plant in Ohio; a southern California hacker’s successful penetration of a Secret Service agent’s PDA, and the attendant theft of confidential agency files.
Poulsen left SecurityFocus in 2005 and joined Wired.com, where he now serves as a senior editor. In a computer-assisted reporting effort in 2006, Poulsen wrote software that scoured MySpace for registered sex offenders, identifying hundreds. The story resulted in the arrest of an active pedophile, led to significant policy changes at MySpace and spawned federal legislation. In 2007, Poulsen’s reporting revealed that the FBI had been using a custom spyware program, called a CIPAV, to infect the computers of criminal suspects. In June 2010, Poulsen and a co-writer broke the news that the government had secretly arrested a young Army intelligence analyst in Iraq on suspicion of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents to the secret-spilling website WikiLeaks.
Poulsen is the founding editor of Wired’s Threat Level blog, which won the 2008 Knight-Batten Award for Innovation in Journalism, and the 2010 MIN award for best blog. In 2009 Poulsen was inducted into MIN’s Digital Hall of Fame for online journalism, and in 2010 he was among those honored as a “Top Cyber Security Journalist” in a peer-voted award by the SANS Institute. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and two children.
Kevin Poulsen discusses his book Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion Dollar Cybercrime Underground, the true story of hacker Max “Vision” Butler, who was initially known in the programming industry as a “white hat” testing computer systems for companies at $100 per hour. However, his public persona changed when he went to federal prison for 18 months after launching a scripted attack that closed security holes on thousands of Pentagon systems, but left him an unauthorized access point.
After getting out of jail, Max struggled to find work and ultimately teamed up with criminal mastermind Chris Aragon. Poulsen details the techniques they used to steal 2 million credit cards numbers and spend $86 million in fraudulent purchases.
“They would check into a hotel, typically in the Financial District, and they would look for a room high up with a good view of the city [San Francisco] and then they would bring up a giant WIFI antenna that Max would use to hack on to networks.” Poulsen displays an antenna almost as tall as himself. “They had to bring it up the fire stairs because they were afraid it would attract attention.”
Kingpin: Privacy, Crime and Security Online
If anyone knows the inner workings of internet security systems, it is Kevin Poulsen. This former hacker and cybercrime expert is now a respected journalist working as the senior editor at Wired.com. Audiences will learn from his first-hand experience what cybercriminals will do to steal your privacy and corrupt your online security. Poulsen outlines the various security vulnerabilities that could exist in your company, and what you need to do to improve your IT systems.
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Kingpin: How One Hacker Took Over the Billion-Dollar Cybercrime Underground
Former hacker Kevin Poulsen has, over the past decade, built a reputation as one of the top investigative reporters on the cybercrime beat.
The word spread through the hacking underground like some unstoppable new virus: Someone—some brilliant, audacious crook—had just staged a hostile takeover of an online criminal network that siphoned billions of dollars from the US economy.
The FBI rushed to launch an ambitious undercover operation aimed at tracking down this new kingpin; other agencies around the world deployed dozens of moles and double agents. Together, the cybercops lured numerous unsuspecting hackers into their clutches. . . . Yet at every turn, their main quarry displayed an uncanny ability to sniff out their snitches and see through their plots.
The culprit they sought was the most unlikely of criminals: a brilliant programmer with a hippie ethic and a supervillain’s double identity. As prominent “white-hat” hacker Max “Vision” Butler, he was a celebrity throughout the programming world, even serving as a consultant to the FBI. But as the black-hat “Iceman,” he found in the world of data theft an irresistible opportunity to test his outsized abilities. He infiltrated thousands of computers around the country, sucking down millions of credit card numbers at will. He effortlessly hacked his fellow hackers, stealing their ill-gotten gains from under their noses. Together with a smooth-talking con artist, he ran a massive real-world crime ring.
And for years, he did it all with seeming impunity, even as countless rivals ran afoul of police.
Ultimately, this is a journey into an underworld of startling scope and power, one in which ordinary American teenagers work hand in hand with murderous Russian mobsters and where a simple Wi-Fi connection can unleash a torrent of gold worth millions.
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