Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ghost in the Wires by Kevin Mitnick and William L. Simon

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker,  Kevin Mitnick and William L. Simon.  New York:Little, Brown & Co., 2011  e-book 436 pps.

@kevinmitnick on Twitter;

I am old enough to remember the early days of ARPANET and b.b.s.  A phreaker acquaintance of mine demo'd some cool toys to me along with a detailed explanation of how our local phone company worked and the world of Centrex and Captain Crunch whistles.  Buddy also filled me in on blue boxes, simple wiring, and slugs.  It was fascinating stuff.  What I really thought was cool was being able to take apart an alarm clock and re-programming it to count.  Buddy could do that also.  That is what I wanted to do.

From Buddy, I had learned that computers were monstrous and required air conditioners and could be tricked by a phreaker into delivering free phone calls and other related things.  I learned that somehow phreakers inserted something deep inside a computer, so deep that a computer administrator would have a difficult time finding "it" and removing "it."  I knew that the more automated a system was, the easier it was to make it do what you wanted it to. My life took me in different directions so I never did learn to code or do the nifty stuff that Buddy and the other phreakers and hackers were doing to make things work better.  That was probably just as well.  [I was and remain highly anxious.  I believe that my anxiety continues to prevent me from testing the limits of any and all laws.  In high school, the kids who shop-lifted learned very quickly never to invite me along with them to the local mall.  I didn't have to say a word in order to scream, "Something is going down over this way!"  That is how much my anxiety showed and still shows today.]

Years passed.  In a bookstore, I found 2600.  I devoured it and still do, although even now I do not understand a lot of it as well as I want to.  I have a vague memory of the phrase, "Free Kevin," which I am pretty sure came from 2600.  I added the word hacker next to the word phreaker in my brain and continued to absorb 2600.  Then I found Make and began collecting random electronica to take apart and rebuild. 

A few years ago via 2600, I learned the word social engineering.  
And a memory came back to me:  In the very early days of my young adulthood, I was planning my first cross-country trip by auto.  My dad told me that the triple A people offered maps and route-planning.  So I walked into the local office, told the nice lady that I was driving cross-country, and that I had no clue how to plan my trip out.  The nice lady plotted out my whole trip for me, gave me maps and books of hotels and motels, showed me where I should stop every night, and added a fifty dollar bail bond to the bag of loot that she was filling up for me.  Then she asked for my membership card.  I looked at her.  "I don't have one," I said.  "You're not a member?" she asked.  "No," I said.  She was laughing so I laughed too.  "Take this stuff and get out of here," she told me.  I did. 

When I recounted my adventure to Dad later, he informed me that a triple-A card was a good thing to have.  He might have told me that I was supposed to join up first.  I figured that the triple A folks offered maps and info to anyone.  I really hadn't known.  I am a member of triple A these many years later.  I note that the service agents now routinely ask for your card before asking how they can help.

Ghost in the Wires takes the reader back to a young Kevin Mitnick and proceeds from there up to the present day.  Mitnick was the kind of hacker that I'd met in my youth-- a phreaker who knew the ins and outs of many phone companies in the United States, a hacker who liked to break into places electronically to get cool stuff but not use the cool stuff for illicit means, a dumpster diver, and a social engineer.  He had a driving curiosity and wanted to know how stuff works.  He graduated into breaking into computer systems for the sheer joy of it.  He got arrested and went on the lam for three years.  Similar to Jeremy Hammond who has been held without trial for quite awhile, Kevin Mitnick was held for almost five years before his trial.  Almost a year of that was in the Hole.

sapphoq reviews says:  Ghost in the Wires is an enjoyable book.  There are no moments of "boring" or "stuffy."  I got a real feel for Kevin Mitnick the youngster, the phreaker, the hacker, the prisoner.  Kevin Mitnick is on Twitter and he retains a lively sense of humor there.  He is today a successful security consultant and speaker, doing what he does best-- demonstrating to companies where the weak holes are in their computer security systems.  I like Ghost in the Wires.  And I like the little bit I know of Kevin Mitnick.  An excellent read for anyone who is at least remotely familiar with computers and with people sense.  Highly recommended.

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