Year ago before Tech TV morphed into G4 (and we were treated to endless repeats of Cops and Cheaters), I happened to tune in one afternoon to see an interview with notorious hacker Kevin Mitnick. At the time, Mitnick promoted his book The Art of Deception and discussion in general terms how he wasn’t necessarily a hacker so much as a social engineer. Mitnick went on to say that part of his sentence was a gag order that prevented his specifically discussing his crimes and life as a hacker for the next decade or so, but he promised that we’d eventually get a book detailing his early days.
I was intrigued enough to pick up The Art of Deception and quickly read through it. It’s a must-read for anyone interesting in making sure you keep your personal or company information out of the hands of people who either enjoy the thrill of collecting it as Mitnick did or want to do something more nefarious with it.
A decade or so later, we’ve finally reached the day when Mitnick can come clean and detail his life as the most wanted hacker in America. His autobiography Ghost in the Wires is every bit as fascinating as I’d hoped it would be when I first heard from Mitnick all those years ago. At long last, we could finally see inside the world Mitnick hinted at in that interview and in his previous two books.
Mitnick’s story of how he learned how to hack various phone systems and social engineer his way into the databases of multiple phone companies is a fascinating one. Mitnick repeatedly asserts that he wasn’t interested in committing any kind of criminal act so much as he enjoyed the thrill of seeing if he could do something and how it could be done. At times, the book is a page-turner as we see inside Mitnick’s world of how his life of hacking consumed him at times, while at others he tried to walk away and not hack any more. There are some technical discussions of what Mitnick did or various software programs he was interested in seeing that, quite frankly, I just skimmed. It may be interesting to those with a detailed knowledge of these things, but what I found more compelling was the human story Mitnick tells.
At times, Mitnick is a bit short-sighted in things and that comes across. His repeated surprise that anyone would be interested in what he was doing, much less want to arrest and prosecute him is amusing.
Reading Ghost in the Wires I kept thinking that Mitnick’s story is one that is just begging to be turned into a movie–assuming you can get the right creative team behind the project. Last year, audiences watched the creation of Facebook on the big screen. I’d argue the story Mitnick has to tell is far more Hollywood ready than that one.