Home Book Review: Fatal System Error

PostHeaderIcon Book Review: Fatal System Error

FATAL SYSTEM ERROR by Joseph Menn (Public Affairs, 2010)

Barrett Lyon, whose amazing true story of Internet spying and sabotage forms the entry point of this book, came to my attention last month in an NPR interview.

In 2003, at the age of 25, he was welcomed into a Costa Rican Internet gambling operation as a savior. Why? In a modern version of the old Mafia “protection” racket, the gambling center was at the mercy of several off-shore denial-of-service (DOS) attackers, who posed a credible threat to swamp the site's servers with a flood of junk “hits” right at the operation's peak business periods – the NFL Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, and any other event which would normally bring a huge volume of profitable bets from eager gamblers, mostly betting from the US.

Of course this was probably illegal, or soon would be when Congress finally got its act together and barred credit card companies from acting as middlemen in betting operations. But not just then.

Lyon, who was a nearly perfect fit for anyone's image of a typical introverted high school hacker, had a solution, but it required a lot more bandwidth for the site's computers. They were more than happy to oblige. And it worked.

After successfully fending off the attackers, and joining his new employers in (what he thought) was a one-third ownership in the DOS-combating business, Lyon set out to find the perpetrators. '

That opens the second half of the book, when he joints up with Andy Crocker, an experienced police investigator from Britain's National High-Tech Crime Unit. The perps were eventually found, but that's where things became difficult. The guilty parties were mostly Russian. One in particular was the son of a prominent local mayor, which just about ruled out any chance of a successful prosecution. Still, with Crocker in the lead, at least some of the guilty parties were brought to some semblance of justice.

But things weren't going that well for Lyon back home. He soon found out that his Costa Rican employer was more than a little bit tied up with US organized crime. But he did finally manage to escape with his skin intact (no 9mm holes) plus a little settlement money from his share in their former joint enterprise.

All in all, a good true detective story. Recommended. Visit the author's website at http://fatalsystemerror.org/.


You might also like: The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security by Kevin D. Mitnick, William L. Simon, and Steve Wozniak (2002);

Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw-By the Man Who Did It by Tsutomu Shimomura and John Markoff (1996)


Last Updated (Tuesday, 10 July 2012 04:57)