Book Review: Ghost in the wires

The memoir of the most wanted hacker in the United States that will keep you on the edge of your seat!

Book Review: Ghost in the wires
Ghost in the wires book cover

I  was never a book worm, you could almost say the opposite about me.  Books usually mean something related to school and most of the learning I  do these days is through the Internet. Besides the whole series of the  Chronicles of Narnia and a few titles from Stephen King, books just  didn’t call out to me. I started reading more often this year as a part  of my new year’s resolution.

This book was something else… From  start to finish, there was no boring parts, and it kept me on edge the  whole time. I loved that. The fact that it is a memoir also increases  the excitement: this all happened for real!

Although most of the  book is written in a non-technical format, the people that will enjoy it  the most will be geeks, so that’s who I’d recommend this book for.  Anyone excited about the whole hacking theme in general will find this  to be an awesome read, since the book recalls dozens of successful  hacking attempts, with special ingenuity in the social engineering part.  Mitnick is a brilliant mind when it comes to picking up a whole  different persona on the fly, something he assures us to be a trainable  skill. Since this was one of the few books I bought in a dead-tree  format, I’m definitely going to lend it to my closest geeky friends.

If this is what a good book feels like it, then I might have missed out on reading!

The content

Without  going into much disclosure, Kevin’s success at hacking so many  different systems is largely attributed to Social Engineering. Most of  the book’s history was at a time where people were not very used to  hearing about security break-ins, which makes you think things might not  be as easy today. Having said that, it doesn’t make me feel less  impressed about Mitnick’s ability to compromise remote systems.

Ghost  in the Wires also story-tells about the daily life back in the 80’s and  90’s from a technological point of view, which makes you realize how  ubiquitous things today were nothing but dreams in that time. For most  of the time Kevin used a cellphone, it was the size of a shoe!

There  are some amazing moments reported, one of my favorites was when Mitnick  knew he was going to get raided by the FBI. He cleaned out every  incriminatory evidence and bought a box of doughnuts, which he  appropriately labeled ‘FBI Doughnuts’. The following morning, when the  FBI agents knocked on his door, they were flabbergasted when they saw no  computers and a grinning Mitnick, waiting for them to nob on the  doughnuts that he had bought. This story, plus a bunch of pranks he  recalls add a very healthy dose of laughter to the book.

If you  look up Kevin’s history in a quick Google search, you’ll soon realize  that he was locked up several times for his computerized adventures. He  mentions the whole episodes and how his family grieved his  incarceration, which makes you root for him. Several times, his actions  were disclosed through back-stabbing friends, which makes you think just  how unlucky he was throughout his life.

Once, while strolling  through a hallway at my college, I overheard a few guys laughing after  someone mentioned a hacker was able to whistle nuclear launch codes from  a telephone. I thought that was pretty random and far-fetched, and just  dismissed it as an inside joke between them. Well, it turns out it  wasn’t, and it was just me being ignorant. It was a reference to  something that happened to Kevin Mitnick at one of his court hearings,  and that would become incredibly famous after that. He had to listen to his prosecutor’s false accusation, who in an attempt  to keep him in prison and to scare the public, told the judge that he  would be able to do just that: whistle into a phone and launch american nuclear missiles. For me that is the definite proof that reality is far greater than fiction.

Something just a bit annoying

Kevin  tells us about his most significant achievements, and to give some  context he includes a general idea of how it happened, which most of the  times includes some sort of social engineering. These stories are all  incredible by themselves, but put together they become somewhat  repetitive. Since you need to go through them in order to keep track of  what’s happening, be prepared to read through several phone  conversations, none of which too long, but tiresome nonetheless. I even  think that it was annoying how he was able to weasel himself into  becoming trustworthy by hundreds of unsuspecting people, but perhaps the  unsuccessful attempts have been withheld, because that would certainly  add a bunch more pages to the book.


Even  considering the large amount of social engineering episodes that are  scattered throughout the book, I still found it a joy to read, and I  read it in only 3 days — that’s an average a little over 100 pages a  day. I only felt like stopping when changing chapters, never in the  middle of one. This was the most enticing and interesting book I have  read so far. But since I have many others in the waiting list, it is  entirely possible that this title doesn’t hold for long. Time will tell.