I just finished reading “Ghost in the Wire : My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker” by Kevin Mitnick and William L. Simon. It reads like a spy thriller and I literally had a hard time putting it down. The stories of Kevin Mitnick’s social engineering exploits are truly amazing, and regardless of one’s ethical stance on hacking one has to respect his extraordinary audacity.
Given that Mitnick himself admits to being a master of social engineering, i.e. lying and manipulating people, I still cannot say for sure whether or not I believe that all his hacking was motivated by curiosity alone. But I don't think it matters really; I agree with Kevin and his supporters that he was treated rather poorly by the US Justice System.
In hindsight though, I can also totally understand why he was treated as harshly as he was; at the time they simply did not have the necessary understanding to ascertain just how big a threat he was, and so they had to assume the worst, and defer to sources who obviously had issues with him that went well beyond the morality and legality of his hacking activities. I also don’t think it mattered that he had apparently not used any of the access or data he obtained for nefarious purposes; it was simply the fact that he could have caused significant damage and loss if he so chose. It was just pure luck on the part of the targets of Kevin’s hacking that he was not malicious; and I would hazard a guess that contemporary jurisprudence is not underpinned in any way by luck (though I am no expert in this area, so one never knows).
This book is well worth the read and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in computer security. It shows that the weakest link in any system is unarguably always the human components, and that without strictly adhered-to policy that no system can be made secure, regardless of the size of the technology investment.
P.S. The book refers to a film that was made by Kevin’s supporters; it is called Freedom Downtime - The Story of Kevin Mitnick. It was obviously made on a shoestring budget, and apparently before hacking became a lucrative new line of business for organized crime world-wide, but it is worth watching. It also happens to be available in its entirety online, and I have embedded it below: