Ghost in the Wires takes a fascinating look at the high-stakes art of computer hacking through the eyes of a man who perfected it.In the early 1990s, computer wizard Kevin Mitnick hacked into the systems of Motorola, Sun Microsystems, Digital Equipment Corporation and other tech behemoths. It wasn’t for any financial gain; Mitnick simply did it for the sheer challenge. “It was like a real-life video game to me,” he says. “A video game with real consequences, which made it more seductive.”
In his new memoir, Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker (Little, Brown and Company, $26), Mitnick, now 48, recounts how he managed to stay one click ahead of authorities in a years-long cat-and-computer-mouse chase across cyberspace. Eventually, the manhunt for Mitnick spilled from the online world to the physical one, with Mitnick evading the FBI in Denver and Seattle before finally being apprehended in Raleigh, N.C., in 1995. After serving five years in prison, Mitnick reinvented himself as a successful security consultant, much like his kindred spirit (and now friend) Frank Abagnale, author of Catch Me If You Can.
The book’s tales of technical wizardry are indeed impressive, especially to IT-savvy readers attuned to the programming key of C. But far more captivating are Mitnick’s stories of “social engineering” — manipulating the people behind the programs to willingly provide confidential information he needed. He’d learn the right lingo and deftly con his unknowing targets by posing as a telephone repairman, police officer or similar trustworthy figure.
Having reflected on his risky stunts, Mitnick admits that his recklessness shocks even himself. “After I finished the book, I couldn’t believe I had been so crazy,” he says. “I just kept going and going, like the Energizer Bunny.”
With computer hacking still a pervasive threat in the modern business environment, Ghost in the Wires is as much a cautionary tale as it is an engaging read. And though Mitnick may now be merely a ghost of hacking past, his insight provides an intriguing glimpse into the obsession that drives — and past feats that inspire — the “ghosts” of hacking present.