Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin D. Mitnick
Narrated by: Ray Porter
If you were a geek in the 90s, you probably remember seeing Free Kevin plastered randomly throughout the web. This was in protest of Kevin Mitnick’s overblown charges when he was finally arrested for his computer crimes after a several year run from the FBI. I didn’t really know the story of how it all went down, so I picked up his recent autobiography.
The begins in Kevin’s childhood as he steals a sheet of blank bus transfers and writes his own tickets, allowing him to roam the city transit free of charge. When the bus drivers caught on to his scheme, they almost encouraged him rather than punishing him. They thought it was clever and funny, so they just let it slide. He decided then that people enjoyed being tricked, as an audience might enjoy a magician’s illusion, and attributes this moment as the origin of what was to come.
After a series of illegal computer acts in his young adulthood, he eventually finds himself on the run from the FBI. At this point he had already obtained the ability to wiretap the FBI, make untraceable cellular calls under other people’s accounts, and switch identities without too much trouble. This allowed him to evade the police for years until he was finally arrested in his apartment in 1995.
He was arrested for these very real crimes, but because the courts didn’t quite understand computers at the time, his case got blown completely out of proportion. It was even brought up in court that he was able to launch nuclear weapons by whistling into the phone, which is obviously complete nonsense. No one truly understood the technology (something that’s still an issue when dealing with computer law today), so he was given an outrageous sentence. He ended up serving five years in prison, about a hundred less than the original sentence, and three years of probation.
The interesting thing about Mitnick is that he was incredible good at manipulating people. The common view of hackers is that they’re shy, quiet people hiding behind a computer screen all day and night, but he got most of his information through social engineering. Most commonly he’d call up a random line at a company, pretend to be someone from a different branch, and get as much information out of the employee as he could. It’s amazing what people will tell you if you’ve done enough research to seem credible.
My only real problem was that Kevin Mitnick seems like a bit of a selfish asshole, and the reader, Ray Porter, would sometimes ham it up a bit, so he would quite often come off as arrogant. For the most part he understands that he was doing wrong, and that he put his family through a hell of a lot, but it sometimes felt like we were getting only half the story. Every friend and girlfriend he’d ever had seemed eager to turn him in to the FBI. He treats this as a bewildering coincidence, but it makes me wonder how he was treating people back then. I had to keep in mind that I was reading a book by someone who specializes in manipulating people.
It’s a very interesting look into the life of our most famous hacker. It’s not the most elegantly written book, but I’d recommend it to anyone looking for a real-life thriller, particularly if you happen to be a computer geek as well.