He pulled off some of the greatest hacks in history, he was once one of the F.B.I.’s most wanted, hell, they even made a crappy movie based on a crappy book about him. Finally, in Ghost in the Wires, we can finally get Kevin Mitnick’s side of the story.
In the early to mid nineties Kevin Mitnick, basically, wrote the book (no pun intended) on hacking and social engineering. His exploits were notorious world-wide, and his achievements legendary. He skilfully hacked his way into the security systems of some of the worlds biggest, and most respected software companies, getting his hands on some of the most sensitive data imaginable. He infamously hacked the phone companies SAS system that allowed him to basically listen in on anyone, including the NSA (if only for a few seconds), and successfully vanished into new identities, eluding the law enforcement agencies trying relentlessly to track him down. Mitnick has become somewhat of a folk legend in the hacker community. He’s done what so few have achieved; actually beaten ‘the man’. Several times in fact. Ok, so he eventually got caught, and sentenced to jail with no trial (as you do), but it almost seems worth it for the sheer brilliance of his exploits.
What becomes clear early on in the book, is that Mitnick is not criminally minded, he’s just curious. His fascination in the inner workings of Houdini magic quickly turns to technology, and from there, trouble. I guess we all want to know what’s ‘behind the curtain’, Mitnick was just a little more determined to actually find out, and this is where the moral quandary lies with the reader. Technically, what he does is a crime, and he’s as bound in social contract as the rest of us; so yes, technically, he should be punished. However, whilst reading the book, you’ll possibly find yourself cheering him on as he turns the government’s own technology against them, and essentially wire taps the wire tappers. You may find yourself unable to not crack a smile when he hacks the ‘worlds leading security expert’ Tsutomu Shimomura. It all seems so unreal, and so outrageous, he seems untouchable.
But, on the flip-side, I couldn’t help but think to myself “this guy needs help”. I would consider myself a very low-level ‘hacker’. I’m writing this review on a Hackintosh, on my desk is a PSP that runs old Amiga games, and my Canon 550D runs software that lets it do stuff the manufacturer didn’t design it for; I guess what I’m saying is, I understand the fun in pushing technology outside of it’s specified boundaries, and getting inside the box. Mitnick, however, appears to have an addiction to it. he literally can’t stop himself, to a point that he ended up spending an unhealthy amount of time in prison – with no phone access – a result of getting the government so wired, they believed he could hum nuclear missile launch codes into a phone, and begin the apocalypse. I did find myself questioning why his incredibly patient – and clearly very loving – parents, never sent him to a addiction councillor.
What makes this book so brilliant is it’s honesty, and the fact that Mitnick’s life was just so damn exciting. It also acts a warning to future would-be Mitnick’s. If you have any interest in hacking taken to the extreme, then this genuinely exciting and unique tale is a must-have.