When I was just 16 years old I got my Ham Radio license. It was then, one of probably 3 Hams my age in the school nerdy enough to care about radio wavelengths, antennas, and electrical engineering, that I gained a fascination for communication. I was fascinated that I could wirelessly tell my mom where I was over patch radio. I was fascinated that I could access the internet over Packet radio even though my parents couldn’t afford an internet connection. The world had little knowledge of the power I had at my hands in that little 2 meter radio.
It was these experiences that made me relate to the stories of Kevin Mitnick in his new book, “Ghost in the Wires” (Foreword by Steve Wozniak). In his book, he begins talking about his childhood as a ham radio operator and having the same fascinations and passion around communication I did. This fascination is what brought him into the world of hacking and social engineering, eventually making him the most wanted man in America by the FBI, landing him in a justice system at a time no one really understood computers or hacking.
Mitnick’s book takes you on a journey through his experiences in social engineering, making you realize that his secret wasn’t cracking passwords as you envision a traditional hacker, but rather becoming a master at hacking people. Every experience in the book is suspenseful, and kept me turning the pages wanting to know what happens. Every experience in and of itself could be an entire blockbuster movie. The real life experiences Mitnick faced are the works only a fiction writer could think of.
In a world where building relationships and learning to work with people through means of social networks and other tools is so important, Mitnick shows how easy it is to manipulate and “hack” the weaknesses of people to get what you want. In this book he shows his real life experiences that allowed him to satisfy a curiosity of determining whether he could conquer challenges that normal people couldn’t fix. It seemed to me he was able to always conquer every one (like the time he hacked the jail phone system while a guard was sitting right in front of him).
Constantly 5 steps ahead of the FBI, Mitnick proved that an ordinary man can outsmart the system through very simple means. This book helped me realize that none of us are truly secure, and what might be secure in our computer systems may not be secure in our minds and psychology. I also found myself sympathizing with Mitnick in many cases, realizing as a man trying to outsmart the system just to see if it could be done, the system had no sympathy for him, nor any understanding of how this man could help him. In the end, the system ended up learning and Mitnick is now one of the world’s top security experts.
If you get a chance, buy the book, “Ghost in the Wires” and read it. I find it rare that I can’t put a book down. This book was one of those rare exceptions, and I found myself embracing every page. In a time where phone tapping and hacking is vividly in the news, this book couldn’t pick a better time to come out. You’ll truly understand how insecure any system is to hackers like this, and it will put you on the defense through the real life experiences of Kevin Mitnick to be sure you yourself don’t get manipulated or hacked. I thoroughly enjoyed “Ghost in the Wires.” I hope they make a movie out of this.
Authors note: I found it fascinating that the one company Mitnick had the most difficulty getting through to (he ended up giving up due to the risk) was Utah’s own Novell. Mitnick gives strong Kudos to Shawn Nunley, Novell’s head of Security at the time and now works for FusionIO here in Utah with Steve Wozniak. Kevin and Shawn, so I’m told by Shawn, are now good friends.
Disclosure: Mitnick’s publisher sent me a free, pre-release copy of the book. The book is now available to all in book stores and Amazon.com.