Fatal System Error, subtitled 'The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who Are Bringing Down the Internet' is that rarest of finds: an IT security book that is not only informative and fascinating, but truly gripping from start to finish. This newly published made for Kindle edition is the cheapest option aa well, saving $11.26 off of the $25.95 print edition cover price.
Joseph Menn, a reporter for the Financial Times, is surely a closet novelist such are the twists and turns that he weaves into what by rights ought to be a pretty dry expose of the emerging cybercrime economy. While expose is accurate, dry most certainly is not. Written from the perspective of two different security heroes, a former member of the UK National High Tech Crime Unit and the founder of a security tool vendors, you cannot help but think this would make one heck of a Hollywood movie
Indeed, if I were a betting man I'd say that's just what will happen but think less in terms of 'Hackers' and more something like 'Goodfellas' meets 'The Bourne Conspiracy' - no, seriously. This no tale of talented and edgy geeks, it's more old school organized crime moved into the modern era through Distributed Denial of Service protection rackets, identity theft and large scale online bank robberies.
Menn starts by telling the story through the eyes, and mouth for that matter, of 25 year old Barrett Lyon back in 2003 when he is preparing to meet with the proprietors of BetCRIS, an online gambling firm based in Costa-Rica and run by what you might call some very colorful characters. The online gambling companies were the main target for the new breed of organised cybercriminals at the time and, with the help of BetCRIS, Lyon sets forth to do something about it. That something is a fascinating tale of technical ability mixed with a determination to get the job done properly, even if that means going undercover as a hacker to learn how the Russian and Chinese DDoS gangs operated.
Meanwhile, the other hero is actually a proper detective in the shape of Andy Crocker, a policeman working with the National High Tech Crime Unit in the UK who follows up on the information provided by Lyon (which the FBI apparently weren't remotely interested in) in order to hunt down, and ultimately seek a successful prosecution of, the gangs involved in the extortion and protection rackets.
Throw in a decent dose of government corruption, coupled with government and law enforcement indifference, and you end up with what has to be, in my opinion, the best book to tackle the cybercrime threat currently available. It is nothing short of a cyber-thriller, made all the more thrilling by the knowledge that we are reading first hand accounts of what actually happened.