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
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.
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
And for years, he did it all with seeming impunity, even as countless rivals ran afoul of police.
as he watched the fraudsters around him squabble, their ranks riddled
with infiltrators, their methods inefficient, he began to see in their
dysfunction the ultimate challenge: He would stage his coup and fix what
was broken, run things as they should be run—even if it meant painting a
bull’s-eye on his forehead.
Through the story of this
criminal’s remarkable rise, and of law enforcement’s quest to track him
down, Kingpin lays bare the workings of a silent crime wave still
affecting millions of Americans. In these pages, we are ushered into
vast online-fraud supermarkets stocked with credit card numbers,
counterfeit checks, hacked bank accounts, dead drops, and fake
passports. We learn the workings of the numerous hacks—browser exploits,
phishing attacks, Trojan horses, and much more—these fraudsters use to
ply their trade, and trace the complex routes by which they turn stolen
data into millions of dollars. And thanks to Poulsen’s remarkable access
to both cops and criminals, we step inside the quiet, desperate arms
race that law enforcement continues to fight with these scammers today.
Ultimately, Kingpin 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.