Given the recent News of the World phone hacking scandal, the timing could not be better for the release of famed hacker Kevin Mitnick’s memoir. At one point, Mitnick went so far as to eavesdrop on National Security Agency telephone calls.
At times Ghost in the Wires reads like a thriller, not only for computer geeks but for those interested in his years on the run from the FBI, or in knowing how Mitnick was able to manipulate so many people into giving him the information he needed. He was a proficient con man by the age of 17.
Obviously, there are many ethical questions raised here, and the author does not seem to entirely regret his past actions. Mitnick emphasizes that he has a “passion for technology” that led him down a “bumpy road” and that he was in it for the challenge, rather than for profit. As the review suggests, great fodder for discussion.
MITNICK, Kevin & William L. Simon. Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker. 432p. photos. index. Little, Brown. Aug. 2011. Tr $25.99. ISBN 978-0-3160-3770-9. LC number unavailable.
Adult/High School–Throughout the late 1980s and ‘90s, Mitnick was the world’s most-prolific and most-wanted hacker. He started with “phone phreaking” or diverting phone calls to other switches to get free long distance, or to call forward anonymously, long before this feature was an option to home customers. He accomplished this partly with his natural technical ability and partly with “social engineering,” or talking to people and leading them to offer the classified piece of information he was lacking. Though he spent some time in the juvenile justice system, once he became an adult his hacking grew along with the stakes. He compromised major telecommunications systems and became wanted by the FBI. His time on the run took him from Southern California to Las Vegas to Denver to Raleigh, where he was eventually caught. Though he was guilty of the hacks, he was also a victim of fear and disinformation from people who really didn’t understand this new computer industry. While no one was harmed by his hacks, Mitnick definitely downplays his responsibility and guilt, focusing instead on the injustices of his sentence and the “Free Kevin” movement that took off even before he was captured. He now serves as a computer security consultant, hacking into companies’ systems to better tell them how to protect themselves. Mitnick keeps the technical writing to a fairly understandable level. Computer buffs will love his story, but the ethical questions will make this book highly discussable for any audience.–Jamie Watson, Baltimore County Public Library, MD