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The Watchman: The Twisted Life and Crimes of Serial Hacker Kevin Poulsen Hardcover – 31 Mar 1997

3.8 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition First Printing edition (31 Mar. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316528579
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316528573
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,608,611 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From the Back Cover

Written like a California noir thriller by way of William Gibson, The Watchman brings to life the wildest, most audacious crime spree in the history of cyberspace. Busted as a teenager for hacking into Pac Bell phone networks, Kevin Poulsen would find his punishment was a job with a Silicon Valley defense contractor. By day he seemed to have gone straight, toiling on systems for computer-aided war. But by night he burglarized telephone switching offices, adopting the personae and aliases of his favorite comic-book anti heroes - the Watchmen. When authorities found a locker crammed with swiped telecommunications equipment, Poulsen became a fugitive from the FBI, living the life of a cyberpunk in a neon Hollywood underground. Soon he made the front pages of the New York Times and became the first hacker charged with espionage. Littman takes us behind the headlines and into the world of Poulsen and his rogues' gallery of cyberthieves. Drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews with Poulsen, his confederates, and the authorities, he spins a thrilling chase story on the electronic frontier. The nation's phone network was Poulsen's playground. On Los Angeles's lucrative radio giveaways, Poulsen worked his magic, winning Porsches and tens of thousands of dollars. He secretly switched on the numbers of defunct Yellow Pages escort ads and took his cut of the profits. And he could wiretap or electronically stalk whomever he pleased, his childhood love or movie stars. The FBI seemed no match for Poulsen. But as Unsolved Mysteries prepared a broadcast on the hacker's crimes, LAPD vice stumbled onto his trail, and an undercover operation began on Sunset Strip.

About the Author

Jonathan Littman is the author of three previous books, including The Fugitive Game and The Watchman, and his articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Forbes, the San Francisco Chronicle, and other publications. A former college soccer player (on Berkeley's nationally ranked NCAA playoff sqaud), he is the father of two young daughters. He lives in the Bay Area.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book had some good potential, but the author instead decide to write a tabloid story. Any technical details that made it into the final edit seem to be there purely by accident. Cliff Stoll proved in "The Cuckoo's Egg" that you can write a good, technically accurate, "fun" story. If someone unfamiliar with Poulson's reputation were to read this book, they would think he was a burgler, not a hacker.
There also doesn't seem to be any description of Poulson's personality or drive, other than a vaguely described "Hacker Ethic".
Don't bother with this book if you are looking for anything similar "The Cuckoo's Egg" or "Takedown".
On a positive note: This book flows smoothly along, making a quick read that doesn't require too much concentration.
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Format: Hardcover
In The Watchman's concluding 'Author's Note', Littman, underlines that his book is a journalistic work This is an amusing comment considering his gross speculation and character judgments.
While hardly a journalistic endeavor, The Watchman is not a work of fiction either. And this is what makes it so confusing to read. Littman's intentional blurring of fact and fiction was intended to produce a readable piece. But what is the result? By what standard is to be judged?
As work of fact, the book lacks references, instead relying on its subject's anecdotal incident accounts.
As a work of fiction it misses the mark: the characters are largely explored superficially, and their many exploits described too rapidly, too vaguely. So, what is left? Tabloid. Worthless tabloid.
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By A Customer on 15 May 1997
Format: Hardcover
This is one of the best books I read about
hacking, phreaking and breaking the LAW.
That also shows that the other side is doing
the same (FBI, NSA, CIA & etc).
This a true story (the books says so...) and
its written in a persons' view, that of
Kevin (the anti-hero).
This is a very recommanded book! for computer
phreaks and wanna-be-phreaks :)
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By A Customer on 6 Jan. 1999
Format: Hardcover
John Littman does an excellent job of telling how the story came to be. I didn't know that much about "hackers" personal lives. This story breaks the hacker stereotype. This book was so good that I used it in a presentation. Try the book "The Fugitive Game: Online with Kevin Mitnick" another one of John Markoff's books.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An interesting read even if viewed as fiction- entertaining, twisting plot and good character development.
Also valuable if looking for a case study of cyber criminals for academic reasons.
I read it on both levels, couldn't put it down, finished it within two days.Buy it!
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book interesting on several levels. It's about
our telecommunications system, about a few people's ethics
abusing the power of that system, and about the state of
enforcement against violations of that system. All done
in a readable accounting of a small cast of characters' actions over a fifteen year period.

It's a difficult task to make day-to-day events readable,
much less involving. Littman has done a credible job here,
describing the exploits of a clique with a combination of
smarts, talent, and a moral code in which authority plays
much farther down the list than does knowledge, capability
or skill in manipulation.

What I find amazing in this recount is the ineptitude of
the investigative and law enforcement arms of local, state
and federal agencies in bringing a case against Poulsen.
Littman presents a balanced view of the criminal and the system against which the crimes were commited. Until the
maintainers and protectors of these systems admit their
vulnerabilities, phone phreaking of this magnitude will
increase, not decrease, in an ever digitally-conscious world. That the Attorney General was not able to make a
more compelling case--if all of Littman's accounts, or
Kevin's recall of them are true--speaks more to what the
Government and the Pacific Bell want to keep quiet.

That a person of Poulsen's ethics, curiosity and talent hacked PacBell offices isn't surprising (it's where the data is, to paraphrase Willy Sutton), that he did it repeatedly and for so long--physically and electronically--should make any citizen concerned for their privacy.
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By A Customer on 9 Feb. 1999
Format: Hardcover
A good book at all, while it can be take as a precise decsription of KP actions it shows very much of the 3l33t hacking in California. When we cross names involved in KP saga with those cited by Shimomura in Takedown it is clear Kevin was not just another suburban phreaker. Given the details about cell phreaking described by the author on The Fugitive Game it would make sense to correlate what was going on between Kevin and those "talented cell phreakers" cited in The Fugitive Game. It's unfortunate, also, that many of the "crimes" attributed to KP on the book don't show up in "The Setencing" at Kevin's homepage, were those charges dropped before the judgement? At last, reading Chaos Theory for the last months shows that Kevin & Ron are still playing like kids regards their old chap Jutin
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