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Kevin Mitnick's ‘lost’ bio

Personal story axed by publisher

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The recent book "The Art of Deception" by Kevin Mitnick and co-author William Simon is without question the most readable and enjoyable text on computer security that I've ever encountered.

While certainly no slouch in the realm of technological attacks, Mitnick's special gift and greatest weapon has been the art of social engineering (confidence tricks), and this practice is naturally at the heart of the book. It features a veritable rogue's gallery of 'factional' scenarios illustrating in detail how a clever manipulator can con his way into the sanctum sanctorum of corporate secrets, often by engaging in seemingly innocent, friendly chat or by impersonating a supervisor, sysadmin or business partner.

Straightforward technological attacks are difficult and time consuming, Mitnick points out, so why bother? If you want something, just ask for it. It's easier, and a great deal quicker, to persuade some innocent, helpful dupe to FedEx you the files you're after. (We can assume there's a lot more of this going on than most companies would be willing to admit.)

While this is hardly news to professional security managers, the book has value as a means of making front-line employees aware of the many ways they can be exploited by friendly strangers and clever poseurs. And it's quite an entertaining read to boot. Each scenario, Mitnick tells us, is based on an actual, proven social-engineering attack which someone has managed to get away with, though how many and which ones he himself may have used is something we're not at liberty to discuss.

But the book is not quite complete. Mitnick had wished to include a brief biographical sketch debunking the legendary persona created by New York Times tech hack John Markoff and detailing his ordeal at the hands of federal prosecutors. Unfortunately, the publisher rejected what were to be the juiciest parts of Chapter One, but we thought you might like to see it anyway. ®

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