"A house without books is like a room without windows." -Horace Mann

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ghost in the Wires

by Kevin Mitnick

An interesting read this time around, not sure its a recommendation but it was definitely intriguing and made me think.  The book is about the author's life as "the world's most wanted hacker."  This guy was really good at hacking into almost anything, but only saw it as a challenge, not as a way to get rich.  He was addicted to the high he got when he broke into something supposedly secure and top secret.

He hacked into the telephone companies, the DMV, and final the FBI.  Much of this was to protect himself while on the run from the authorities, and he used the information he gained at that time to create new identities and track those who were trying to track him.  In the end he was finally caught and spent some time in prison.  After his release, he became so well-known as the top hacker that he eventually made lots of money off of speaking engagements, media deals, and his own consulting business which provides hacking services to companies legally, to check their security. 

The writing in the book is somewhat technical, but if you skim through the stuff that doesn't make sense you get the gist of what he is saying most of the time, and it is quite a fascinating and riveting story  that keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering if he's going to stay one step ahead of the authorities.

However, it was a complicated read for me because although Mitnick admits that his activities were illegal and he often acted stupidly, he also never really seems sorry for much of what he did.  He has this strange outlook where he is finds it unthinkable that people treat him unfairly, whether that is his hacking buddies who rat him out, or the FBI or government who do things that aren't completely honest.  Yet he deceives many of these people himself.

I'm not saying that some of the injustices in his case were warranted.  Just because someone is a "bad guy" does not mean that they don't have rights or that others can then treat them unethically.  However, what I do have a problem is the writer's attitude toward it all.  First, he never seems to see that although he doesn't hurt anyone outright, his actions have far reaching consequences.  I can't help think of his family and the terrible heartache he put them through, or the tax dollars that went to catching him and locking him up, or the life he missed out on by choosing to run.  And what about the people that he convinced to do things they shouldn't, what are the ramifications for them?  Mitnick to me seems to have quite a tunnel-vision view of how his acts didn't really "hurt" anyone.

And again, how can he be doing illegal, unfair, and deceptive things to others and then turn around and be surprised and horrified that others do the same to him.  His cry that his incarceration was "not fair" is one that strikes a bit of a hypocritical chord to me.  Deception, no matter how small or large, hurts a lot more when it is directed at you instead of at someone else.  He did not seem to take his own medicine very well, though that is no excuse for some of what he went through.  And finally, its a little depressing that in the end he makes huge amounts of money off this, not just as a "legal" hacker, but as a type of celebrity.  Then I find myself asking if I am not being hypocritical because I just spent the last five days reading his book.  Yet, just because I don't agree with what someone does, doesn't mean I shouldn't read a book about what they did.  Ah well.  We all have some of that in ourselves I think.  The trick is to be able to recognize it and try to be better.

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