The FBI wants you behind bars, locked in solitary confinement. The US Justice Department barely understands what you did or how you did it, so good luck with a fair trial. Do you surrender and turn yourself in, or do you run?
Kevin Mitnick chose to run.
Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker, is Kevin Mitnick’s autobiography of his time at the top of the FBI’s most wanted Hacker list—a title he well earned for his exploits. However, Kevin is different from other Hackers of his time. Kevin never hacked for money, just for the thrill and challenge. He targeted some of the world’s largest technology companies, stealing their product’s source code. Did he steal the source code for money? No, like the hunter mounting a deer head on his wall, the source code was the trophy of his hack.
Ghost in the Wires: Mastering the Dark Arts
Kevin mastered the 80s technology dark arts, phone phreaking, wiretapping, social engineering, and server breaching. He had a deeper understanding of phone switches than even the telephone company. With this knowledge, he pioneered methods of defeating network and phone tracing techniques used by investigators. By wiretapping the FBI, he knew about the impending raid on his home. This gave him time to wipe evidence and pick up a dozen donuts for the raiding agents. Kevin left the donuts on his table with a note that read “FBI donuts.” For some reason, the FBI agents did not think this was funny…
Kevin achieved complete invisibility for his cell phone by skillfully manipulating Novatel, the cell phone manufacturer, into providing him with a developer version of the EPROM microchip. This developer chip allowed Kevin to clone his cell phone to any phone number. Armed with these and other hacking dark arts, he managed to evade the FBI for nearly three years.
The honest truth is Kevin was addicted to the thrill and risk Blackhat Hacking brings. If you have ever played a CTF, like Hack-The-Box, or been on a Red Team engagement, you know the rush and high these things can bring. Like any addiction, Kevin’s would ultimately hurt the people he cared about most.
TLDR: Ghost in the Wires – Read it!
Ghost in the Wires is a practical hands-on approach to penetrating a company’s information systems, taken from Kevin’s real-world hacking experience. Any inspiring cybersecurity professional should read this book; it holds invaluable insights. Very few books are honest retellings from the Hacker perspective of the social engineering process to breach a company network. Although most of the technologies in the book are long gone, the techniques, tactics, and procedures are still used today. Social engineering is the foundation for most hacks today; every email phishing campaign is based on this concept. So don’t think lessons within this book are not relevant.
June 2023 Update
On July 16, 2023, Kevin lost his fight with cancer. Kevin was a true OG Hacker, and he will be missed.
Ghost in the Wires holds a special place in my life. When it was released in 2012, I was just starting my IT career. After reading this book, I knew I wanted to refocus my career goals on cybersecurity. When my enthusiasm for cybersecurity starts to fade from burnout, rereading this book reignites my interest. I have been carrying a hard copy of this book around at DEF CON for the last few years, hoping to get it signed. I am disappointed I will never meet Kevin, and thank him for influencing my life.