Ghost in the Wires


I’m a fan of a book on hacking. I started with The Cuckoo’s Egg, way back when, which is still the best one I’ve read from the ‘white hat’ side, even if somewhat outdated these days.

The second book on hacking I ever read was Takedown by Tsutomu Shimomura, the man who helped the FBI track down and finally capture Mitnick.

It was an entertaining read (from memory anyway, I haven’t read it for about 20 years) and cast Mitnick firmly as the villain. He was notorious by that time,  as one of the few hackers who made it into the mainstream consciousness.

I don’t recall much from it, except details of Mitnick’s social engineering and cell phone firmware swapping — he never seemed all that technical to me.

This book fills in the other side of the story. Yes, Mitnick tries to make himself sound as innocent as possible and highlight at great length when the authorities didn’t play by the rules.

That said, he has some fair points. Which he argues articulately through an engaging narrative. He’s a good storyteller, even if he does wander down unrelated side alleys and belabour points from time-to-time.

There are parts where you want to point out a passage and ask what the hell he was thinking. Clearly he was driven by an addiction he couldn’t control.

I can see why he drove the authorities and phone companies nuts, why he was targeted so heavily (for making the FBI look incompetent or foolish), but some of the things linked to his name also hounded him (the price of star power).

It’s a good read because he’s a smart guy, as if staying ahead of his pursuers for that long wasn’t evidence enough. Would have been interesting to get interviews with those on the other side of the fence as well.

Certainly the best book I’ve read on hacking (especially social engineering) for a long time.

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Reviewed: 19th March 2019