DarkEmeralds (emeraldsedai) wrote,

Ghost in the Wires

I just finished the curiously entertaining Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick with William L. Simon, and enjoyably read by Ray Porter.

Mitnick's a hacker. For a while in the 90s he was the most wanted computer criminal in the world, despite not having really done anything with all the stuff he hacked into. Nowadays, after some prison time, he's a security consultant and international speaker.

The book, being autobiographical, takes the point of view of the most unreliable witness of all, but somehow you come away convinced that he really was a moral guy--terminally curious, brainy and egotistical, but with no villainy in his soul.

He details his most noteworthy hacks, and the remarkable thing is that his incursions into secure systems were only half owing to computer skills. The other half was "social engineering"--calling people on the phone, telling credible stories, asking bold questions and getting voluntary answers from innocent, helpful people at phone and software companies. Now he makes most of his living showing government and corporations how not to let that happen.

He has a whole chapter on creating a false identity (drive to Pierre, South Dakota, spend a week examining death records, find at least one for someone who died near your date of birth but who already had a Social Security number, "borrow" the seal and use it to emboss several of the blank official birth certificates that just luckily fall into your hands...)

Well, a lot of what he did was only possible in that heady decade after computers but before...well, before Kevin Mitnick. A lot of it was only desirable in those strange days when cellular phone talk time was a dollar a minute and it was a big deal to store ten megabytes somewhere. And it's hard to imagine a judge on today's bench being so ignorant of technology as to believe that a hacker could launch a nuclear war by dialing into NORAD and whistling into the phone (the reason his first criminal conviction resulted in solitary confinement).

So the book is as much the picture of a unique moment in American history as it is the self-vindicating and slightly gloating memoir of some guy who was too clever for his own good. But it's remarkably entertaining, and I recommend it.

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