Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Kevin Poulsen

Video below is a talk by Kevin Poulsen, the best hacker in the history of the world -- who got caught. Period. Details start at 3:05, and pay particular attention to 15:21. Spend 50-odd minutes to learn about one of the most inventive criminals in U.S. history. If you want context and more information, read the stuff I provide below. If you're not interested, no problem.

Most criminals, when hunted by multi-jurisdictional experts (FBI, Secret Service, and phone company security personnel), flee. They go on the run. Not Poulsen. No reason to. He had the upper hand, and stayed put in his home town of Los Angeles. He was better than them, right up until he got caught, of course.

Poulsen was featured on Unsolved Mysteries with Robert Stack. Mysteriously, when the show broadcast the toll free phone number for the public to call in tips, the phone system failed. Surprise, surprise. Part of his deal with the government was certain aspects of his case can be revisited, and that's why I believe he doesn't cop to all he's done, such as mysterious large-scale phone outages. I wonder if the deal he made explain why he hasn't written his memoirs? Too bad, because it would be great reading.

Lots of our best drama is crime drama: Heat, a cinematic masterpiece, was loosely based on a real criminal. Escape From Alcatraz, likewise, and Scorsese's masterpiece The Departed, loosely based on real criminal Whitey Bulger. Goodfellas, based on a real criminal. Also there was Catch Me If You Can, based on the true story of Frank Abagnale. All of these audacious criminals, even fictional crime stories like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction fall short of Poulsen's real exploits.

Poulsen has gone straight as a journalist for Wired, and he wrote one of the best books on hackers, called Kingpin. Well written and researched, it's a must read for anyone interested in technology and entertaining true crime. For Poulsen's full story, see Jonathan Littman's book, The Watchman. Judging by the current prices, I'm glad I bought my copy long ago. Watchman is probably the best book about hacking, detailing the best hacker in history who got caught -- Poulsen. It's fitting that the best hacker, Poulsen, wrote the best book about hacking. There can be no doubt that Poulsen's criminal past allowed access to Max Vision aka Kingpin.

This video below shows some of what Poulsen did, and he also discusses Kingpin, which is almost as interesting as Poulsen's activities. Until I found out about Poulsen, I thought Frank Abagnale was the most audacious criminal. Because of Poulsen's past as a hacker, and present as a great tech-security writer, I was disappointed that Snowden didn't choose Poulsen as one of three sources for the recent NSA leaks. He would have been the best candidate of all. Mostly, I'm disappointed that a great writer who understands technology hasn't written his own memoir. The legal ramifications are the only explanation for the lack of this great memoir. I think he should pull an Assange, or Snowden, and travel somewhere for asylum, and tell us his version of events.

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