Jan 252015

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker by Kevin Mitnick with William L. Simon 

Kevin Mitnick is a man obsessed with other people’s information. In this autobiography, he details how he became the world’s most wanted hacker, breaking in to corporation after corporation, just because he could. He would steal source code, email and other software, setting himself up to make free phone calls on masked phones to cover his tracks. Why? He never used any of the things he stole to actually make money. He did use his vast telephone system knowledge to rig radio phone contests so he would win. But, all he did with the valuable things he stole was stash copies in various places on the Internet. Most of the time, he didn’t even use the software. Occasionally, he would study it to see how he could exploit it for the next target. It was obvious throughout the book, Mitnick is mystified why others consider this a crime. In his mind, no harm was done other than to show companies the vulnerability of their security from someone who truly would steal it. Now, out of prison, he make incredible money ‘legally’ hacking into companies as a security consultant, having leveraged his fame into a lucrative business.

There are those who agree with Mitnick. I am not one of those. I do agree the government, in his prosecution, went way beyond the mark and strayed into illegalities. He was held without a bond hearing, just because (according to Mitnick) she had decided beforehand there was no way she would grant his release. He was barred from seeing the evidence against him because the information was all electronic and the court was afraid to even let him look at a computer, believing he could somehow hack systems without touching a computer. He was denied the use of a telephone because they believed he could “whistle into the phone can launch a nuclear missile strike from jail.” Granted, he could manipulate the phones to do amazing things, but launch missiles from systems not even connected to phones? Really? Do your homework, people.

What scared me the most was Mitnick’s accounts of how he would social engineer the information. Social engineering is getting people to give you information that can be used to gain access. He would call up someone in a targeted company and say, “This is Frank over in engineering. We are doing an audit of the passwords on the VMX system. We have your pin code as 1234. Is that correct?” More often than not, the person would reply, “No. it is 4854.” Duh… I would like to think most people wouldn’t fall for that, but they did time after time. This is a real problem for corporations even today. People try to be helpful and end up giving away information that is then used to hack into the computer systems. Mitnick’s greatest contribution by writing this book is to show just how easy it is. Perhaps knowing this account will make me more aware of the attempts that happen on a daily basis all over the world. Any little tidbit of information is useful to a hacker, who often piece together enough innocuous pieces of information over time to create the entire picture. Minick, hero or villain, at least showed me that much.

Jun 132012

Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, Revised Edition by Dr. Robert C. Atkins, M.D.  

Last year, I read Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It and started a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. I lost 25 pounds by Thanksgiving. I couldn’t get below 197, though, and decided to take the holidays “off”. I gained some weight back, of course, but went back on the diet mid-January. Again, I kept bouncing off the 200 pound wall. My wife suggested I read Dr. Atkin’s revised edition as it had a chapter on what to do about stalling.

I resisted for several months because I really don’t enjoy reading books on health. I finally gave in and read it. I learned a few things, but it was mostly repeat of what I read before. He had a few good ideas on what to do when weight loss stalls out and I am trying some of them. One is to quit stepping on the scale every day. I do it once a week now and last time I did, I was at 198. I am also keeping closer track of exactly what I eat and counting every carb. It is a pain, but so far, so good. I hope to lost this last 20 pounds and then go into maintenance mode. I can hardly wait.

Mar 282012

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell  

What makes a shoe that has languished in the market for years, suddenly popular and the latest fashion trend? At what point did fax machines go from being odd toys to ubiquitous business necessities? How did the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood go from completely dismissed to a national bestseller? These are the questions, among many others, Gladwell tackles in his book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

Gladwell, like Jim Collins, spends his life asking questions and then researching the answers, looking for the catalysts for change. In Gladwell’s assessment, large events hinge on small, almost imperceptible events. He calls these Tipping Points, a moment of critical mass, the threshold, or a boiling point where drastic changes the outcomes occur. He likens it to a shift of a couple degrees of temperature and what was once rain becomes fluffy snow, the unexpected becomes expected and radical changes is more than a possibility.

Gladwell lays out three rules for a Tipping Point: the Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context. Each rules is accompanied by a lengthy and detailed argument for his theory. For example, the Law of the Few examines why Paul Revere of Revolutionary War fame was successful in his ride to muster and army to stop the British where others were merely late night riders annoying the slumbering towns. He examines the “stickiness” of Sesame Street and how Blues Clues took it one step farther. He then shows how the New York City the Power of Context to clean up a serious crime problem.

One section I really enjoyed was his discussion on Connectors. These are people who spend their time putting people together. They know all the right people and enjoy helping put these people in touch with each other when the need is perceived. These are the people, who after eating at a good restaurant, will be on the phone immediately afterward, cluing in their friends who will also like it. Paul Revere was one such gregarious person, which was the key to his successful ride.

Gladwell has some very interesting theories, but I couldn’t help wonder through the entire book if social psychology could be summed up so simply. He does present a case study in which the rules were applied by a marketing company to take an obscure sneaker and clothing company from a tiny niche market to a huge international success… and back. It is very interesting to contemplate and Gladwell makes a good case. However, in the end, the theory resonated with me as good ideas worth some investigation, but certainly not the complete answers to the questions.

I read Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking a few years ago and I intend to read his latest book, Outliers: The Story of Success. I enjoy Gladwell’s ideas and theories. His stories are interesting and support his points. He makes me think differently and look at other options. I just don’t buy into his theories 100%.

Perhaps it was the constant barrage of story after story and constant referencing back to previous stories that wore me down. Collins did much the same in Great By Choice, but his book was one-third the length and felt more believable to me. I struggled to get to the end of Gladwell’s tome. I found that I couldn’t toe dip – pick it up and read for a few minutes and come back later. It took at least twenty minutes for me to get under the surface of his writing style to enjoy the material involved. Once I got in the groove, though, I did enjoy it. I just didn’t have large blocks of time to devote to it until I finally became committed to finishing it. Unfortunately, that commitment was just a desire to get to the end.