THE WATCHMAN by Jonathan Littman


The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin Poulsen
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 Having chronicled the digital-data brigandage of the notorious Kevin Mitnick (The Fugitive Game, 1996), Littman casts a cool, discerning eye on Kevin Poulsen, who led law-enforcement agencies in a merry chase along the Information Highway. Drawing on extensive interviews with 31-year-old Poulsen, his partners in crime, and the cops who chased them down, the author offers an absorbing, evenhanded portrait of the hacker as a dangerous young man. A technical virtuoso before he was out of his teens and in trouble with authorities early on, the disaffected young Californian (whose on-line alias, The Watchman, was taken from the antihero of a dark-side comic series) also held responsible programming jobs at both SRI and Sun Microsystems before his Pacific Tel break-ins and other computer felonies made him officially unemployed. Going outlaw on a full-time basis, Poulsen trespassed on the memory banks of machines linked by modem on the Internet, exposed the security weaknesses of government and university installations, played embarrassing pranks on rivals, and otherwise showcased his considerable talents for electronic wizardry. He rigged a contest run by an L.A. radio station (by diverting its phone lines) and collected a couple of Porsches as prizes. He also managed to ferret out wiretaps Big Brother's helpers (FBI, Secret Service, et al.) had planted on the ACLU, foreign consulates, suspected mobsters, and others. Despite his professed allegiance to a hacker code, Poulsen was not fastidious about profiting from his skills, putting them at the disposal of call-girl rings and shady private detectives. Eventually brought to book in 1990 on a wealth of charges, the chronic offender was allowed to cop a plea in the interests of protecting the feds' dirtier secrets. An arresting account of the career of a New Age intruder whose capacity to strike at will mocks the very notion of computer privacy and security. (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 31st, 1997
ISBN: 0-316-52857-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1997


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