As I turned the last page and set down Kevin Mitnick’s remarkable autobiography Ghost in the Wires, I looked at the clock and was surprised to see that it was 3am. I was also struck by an odd realization: that I had read the entire book cover to cover; an accomplishment I had rarely achieved in my life, evident by all the books on my shelf with bookmarks patiently marking the spots where I eventually got bored with them.

Rarely has a story kept me so captivated and entranced that I just couldn’t put it down. I have known Kevin for a number of years now and yet I never had a glimpse into his life as revealing as this.

The story, while an autobiography, reads like a modern thriller. Kevin’s life is so full of suspense and twists that it is hard to imagine this all really happened. But it did.

Kevin guides us through his life growing up in Southern California with an ever-increasing, almost compulsive desire to beat the system–any system. The book chronicles his journey from obscurity to anonymity to notoriety to celebrity.

Throughout the book he describes the meticulous, multilayered, and astonishingly thorough steps he took to work his way into the heart of every phone system and network he touched, sometimes through technical exploits but more often through nothing more than clever and sometimes brazen social engineering. Kevin accomplished more by dropping a name, a job title, and a crafty back story in a phone conversation than most hackers could never accomplish with a keyboard. His stories almost become tedious to us as readers as he describes over and over his unremitting determination to get someone to reset a password, give him outside access to sensitive systems, or even mail him proprietary software.

But what really makes the story great is how he so often turned the tables on those who were chasing him. With his elaborate monitoring setups, early warning systems, and sometimes a little intuition he always knew exactly how close the Feds were getting. You can’t help but cheer him on as the hero as he describes listening in on the very Pacific Bell security conference call where they discuss schemes to catch him, and the whole time him dying to bust in to the conversation and tell them that just won’t work.

Kevin also fills the story with the personal experiences that both shaped him and led to his never-ending compulsion to gain more trophies: some operating system or cell phone software that he had to have no matter the risks required. As he tells his life’s story you can’t help but feel his hurt from betrayal, the nagging feeling of being watched, the biting fear of being caught, contrasted with the safety and comfort of friends and family who were always loyal and devoted to him.

But best of all you definitely experience right with him the intoxifying thrill of being to control any system, manipulate any person, gain access to any information, and have so many people asking with astonishment: “how the f___ did you do that, Kevin?”

 

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