Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security

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The world's most infamous hacker offers an insider's view of the low-tech threats to high-tech security Kevin Mitnick's exploits as a cyber-desperado and fugitive form one of the most exhaustive FBI manhunts in history and have spawned dozens of articles, books, films, and documentaries. Since his release from federal prison, in 1998, Mitnick has turned his life around and established himself as one of the most sought-after computer security experts worldwide. Now, in The Art of Deception, the world's most ...

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The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security

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The world's most infamous hacker offers an insider's view of the low-tech threats to high-tech security Kevin Mitnick's exploits as a cyber-desperado and fugitive form one of the most exhaustive FBI manhunts in history and have spawned dozens of articles, books, films, and documentaries. Since his release from federal prison, in 1998, Mitnick has turned his life around and established himself as one of the most sought-after computer security experts worldwide. Now, in The Art of Deception, the world's most notorious hacker gives new meaning to the old adage, "It takes a thief to catch a thief." Focusing on the human factors involved with information security, Mitnick explains why all the firewalls and encryption protocols in the world will never be enough to stop a savvy grifter intent on rifling a corporate database or an irate employee determined to crash a system. With the help of many fascinating true stories of successful attacks on business and government, he illustrates just how susceptible even the most locked-down information systems are to a slick con artist impersonating an IRS agent. Narrating from the points of view of both the attacker and the victims, he explains why each attack was so successful and how it could have been prevented in an engaging and highly readable style reminiscent of a true-crime novel. And, perhaps most importantly, Mitnick offers advice for preventing these types of social engineering hacks through security protocols, training programs, and manuals that address the human element of security.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The name “Kevin Mitnick” is a Rorschach test for the digital age. To the government (and to companies like Sun Microsystems, whose Solaris source code he once appropriated), Mitnick was pure menace, marauding through computer systems that didn’t belong to him, causing millions of dollars of losses, and blazing a trail for even worse cybercriminals. To much of the hacker community, Mitnick’s a hero, unjustly persecuted by an ignorant Department of Justice: a prophet in the wilderness, warning folks who are too lazy or dumb to protect their digital assets. Perhaps you’ve seen those Free Kevin bumper stickers. After five years in prison, Mitnick’s on parole and evidently following the straight and narrow, though he’s still not allowed a web connection -- or even a ham radio license.

Even if you could care less about Mitnick personally, though, his book The Art of Deception is indispensable if you care about the vulnerability of your business computer systems -- or your own personal information. Mitnick presents the best discussion of “social engineering” we’ve ever seen: the art of understanding how to trick people into voluntarily handing over the information needed to break into computer systems.

It’s a shame you have to worry about folks “toy[ing] with your trust, your desire to be helpful, your sympathy, and your human gullibility to get what they want,” but you do -- and after you’ve read Mitnick’s extensive collection of case studies, you’ll be ready the next time someone tries social engineering on you.

You’ll learn how crackers have convinced even suspicious employees to reveal their usernames and passwords; six ways “phone phreaks” can get unlisted phone numbers from the telephone company; and how investigators can quickly discover a terrifying amount of information about you and your company. You’ll also learn how, through a chain of “innocuous” conversations, a cracker can get into even the most well protected systems.

Mitnick closes with a detailed guide to preventing social engineering attacks on your organization, including practical recommendations for employee security training, and a complete, easy-to-adapt security policy you can start implementing now. This may not be where you expected to get your security advice from, but hey, who could possibly know your vulnerabilities better than Kevin Mitnick? Bill Camarda

Bill Camarda is a consultant, writer, and web/multimedia content developer. His 15 books include Special Edition Using Word 2000 and Upgrading & Fixing Networks For Dummies®, Second Edition.

From the Publisher
“…a fascinating read…” (ForTeanTimes, June 2004)

"...a lot of interesting cautionary tales..." (NewScientist, January 2004)

Wired Magazine
He was the FBI's most-wanted hacker. But in his own eyes, Mitnick was simply a small-time con artist with an incredible memory, a knack for social engineering, and an enemy at The New York Times. That foe, John Markoff, made big bucks selling two books about Mitnick -- without ever interviewing him. This is Mitnick's account, complete with advice for how to protect yourself from similar attacks. I believe his story.
Finally someone is on to the real cause of data security breaches--stupid humans. Notorious hacker Kevin Mit-nick--released from federal prison in January 2000 and still on probation--reveals clever tricks of the "social engineer-ing" trade and shows how to fend them off in The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security (Wiley, $27.50).

Most of the book, coauthored by William Simon (not the one running for governor of California), is a series of fictional episodes depicting the many breathtakingly clever ways that hackers can dupe trusting souls into breaching corporate and personal security--information as simple as an unlisted phone number or as complicated as plans for a top-secret product under development. The rest lays out a fairly draconian plan of action for companies that want to strengthen their defenses. Takeaway: You can put all the technology you want around critical information, but all it takes to break through is one dolt who gives up his password to a "colleague" who claims to be working from the Peoria office.

What's useful about this book is its explanation of risks in seemingly innocuous systems few people think about. The caller ID notification that proves you're talking to a top executive of your firm? Easily forged. The password your assistant logs in with? Easily guessed. The memos you tossinto the cheap office shredder? Easily reconstructed. The extension that you call in the IT department? Easily forwarded.

Physical security can be compromised, too. It's not hard to gain access to a building by "piggybacking" your way in the door amid the happy throng returning from lunch. You'd better have confidence in your IT professionals,because they're likely to have access to everything on the corporate system, including your salary and personal informa-tion. Mitnick offers some ideas for plugging these holes, like color-coded ID cards with really big photos.

Implementing the book's security action plan in full seems impossible, but it's a good idea to warn employees from the boss down to the receptionist and janitors not to give out even innocuous information to people claiming to be helpful IT folks without confirming their identity--and to use things like encryption technology as fallbacks. Plenty of would-be Mitnicks--and worse--still ply their trade in spaces cyber and psychological.
—Stephen Manes

Publishers Weekly
Mitnick is the most famous computer hacker in the world. Since his first arrest in 1981, at age 17, he has spent nearly half his adult life either in prison or as a fugitive. He has been the subject of three books and his alleged 1982 hack into NORAD inspired the movie War Games. Since his plea-bargain release in 2000, he says he has reformed and is devoting his talents to helping computer security. It's not clear whether this book is a means toward that end or a, wink-wink, fictionalized account of his exploits, with his name changed to protect his parole terms. Either way, it's a tour de force, a series of tales of how some old-fashioned blarney and high-tech skills can pry any information from anyone. As entertainment, it's like reading the climaxes of a dozen complex thrillers, one after the other. As a security education, it's a great series of cautionary tales; however, the advice to employees not to give anyone their passwords is bland compared to the depth and energy of Mitnick's descriptions of how he actually hacked into systems. As a manual for a would-be hacker, it's dated and nonspecific better stuff is available on the Internet but it teaches the timeless spirit of the hack. Between the lines, a portrait emerges of the old-fashioned hacker stereotype: a socially challenged, obsessive loser addicted to an intoxicating sense of power that comes only from stalking and spying. (Oct.) Forecast: Mitnick's notoriety and his well-written, entertaining stories should generate positive word-of-mouth. With the double appeal of a true-crime memoir and a manual for computer security, this book will enjoy good sales. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The world's most famous computer hacker and cybercult hero, once the subject of a massive FBI manhunt for computer fraud, has written a blueprint for system security based on his own experiences. Mitnick, who was released from federal prison in 1998 after serving a 22-month term, explains that unauthorized intrusion into computer networks is not limited to exploiting security holes in hardware and software. He focuses instead on a common hacker technique known as social engineering in which a cybercriminal deceives an individual into providing key information rather than trying to use technology to reveal it. Mitnick illustrates the tactics comprising this "art of deception" through actual case studies, showing that even state-of-the-art security software can't protect businesses from the dangers of human error. With Mitnick's recommended security policies, readers gain the information their organizations need to detect and ward off the threat of social engineering. Required reading for IT professionals, this book is highly recommended for public, academic, and corporate libraries. [This should not be confused with Ridley Pearson's new thriller, The Art of Deception. Ed.] Joe Accardi, William Rainey Harper Coll. Lib., Palatine, IL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780764542800
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 10/6/2003
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 204,563
  • Product dimensions: 5.44 (w) x 9.64 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Mitnick is the founder of Defensive Thinking, an informationsecurity firm, and speaks widely on security issues. He hasappeared on 60 Minutes and elsewhere in the media, and his exploitshave spawned several bestselling books, including The FugitiveGame.

William Simon is the bestselling author of more than twentybooks.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 2, The Art of Deception

Security is too often merely an illusion, an illusion sometimes made even worse when gullibility, naïveté, or ignorance come into play. The world’s most respected scientist of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein, is quoted as saying, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former.” In the end, social engineering attacks can succeed when people are stupid or, more commonly, simply ignorant about good security practices.

Many information technology (IT) professionals hold to the misconception that they’ve made their companies largely immune to attack because they’ve deployed standard security products. Anyone who thinks that security products alone offer true security is settling for the illusion of security. It’s a case of living in a world of fantasy: They will inevitably, later if not sooner, suffer a security incident.

A Classic Case of Deception

One day in 1978, Stanley Rifkin moseyed over to Security Pacific’s authorized-personnel-only wire-transfer room, where the staff sent and received transfers totaling several billion dollars every day.

Arriving in the wire room, he took some notes on operating procedures, supposedly to make sure the backup system his company was developing would mesh properly with the regular systems. Meanwhile, he surreptitiously read the day’s security code from a posted slip of paper, and memorized it. A few minutes later he walked out.

As he said afterward, he felt as if he had just won the lottery.

Leaving the room at about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, he headed straight for the pay phone in the building’s marble lobby, where he deposited a coin and dialed into the wire-transfer room. He then changed hats, transforming himself from Stanley Rifkin, bank consultant, into Mike Hansen, a member of the bank’s International Department.

According to one source, the conversation went something like this:

“Hi, this is Mike Hansen in International,” he said to the young woman who answered the phone.

She asked for the office number. That was standard procedure, and he was prepared: “286,” he said.

The girl then asked, “Okay, what’s the code?”

Rifkin has said that his adrenaline-powered heartbeat “picked up its pace” at this point. He responded smoothly, “4789.” Then he went on to give instructions for wiring “Ten million, two-hundred thousand dollars exactly” to the Irving Trust Company in New York, for credit of the Wozchod Handels Bank of Zurich, Switzerland, where he had already established an account.

She took the number and said, “Thanks.”

A few days later Rifkin flew to Switzerland, picked up his cash, and handed over $8 million to a Russian agency for a pile of diamonds. He flew back, passing through U.S. Customs with the stones hidden in a money belt.

He had pulled off the biggest bank heist in history-and done it without using a gun, even without a computer. Oddly, his caper eventually made it into the pages of the Guinness Book of World Records in the category of “biggest computer fraud.”

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Table of Contents




Part 1: Behind the Scenes.

Chapter 1: Security's Weakest Link.

Part 2: The Art of the Attacker.

Chapter 2: When Innocuous Information Isn't.

Chapter 3: The Direct Attack: Just Asking for It.

Chapter 4: Building Trust.

Chapter 5: "Let Me Help You".

Chapter 6: "Can You Help Me?".

Chapter 7: Phony Sites and Dangerous Attachments.

Chapter 8: Using Sympathy, Guilt, and Intimidation.

Chapter 9: The Reverse Sting.

Part 3: Intruder Alert.

Chapter 10: Entering the Premises.

Chapter 11: Combining Technology and Social Engineering.

Chapter 12: Attacks on the Entry-Level Employee.

Chapter 13: Clever Cons.

Chapter 14: Industrial Espionage.

Part 4: Raising the Bar.

Chapter 15: Information Security Awareness and Training.

Chapter 16: Recommended Corporate Information SecurityPolicies.

Security at a Glance.




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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 17, 2014

    Art of Deception

    Powerful book. I strongly recommend it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2014

    Not what I expected but good.

    I thought this book would be a lesson on HOW to social engineer, but unfortunately it is just a interesting corporate handbook. Provides a couple of interesting stories and techniques but I'd like to see a guidebook to ethical social engineering. Good read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 31, 2011


    This was an extraordinary book!


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  • Posted November 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Vivid, eye-opening stories with a dry, professional addendum

    This is a highly enjoyable collection of short stories demonstrating social engineering fundamentals. It's Scams 101 written by a highly credible author. Each method chapter draws from street experience and is analyzed for comprehension and defense, This is a real eye-opener for those of us sheltered in corporate office jobs or academia.

    The first two thirds of the book are the method chapters, while the remaining third is a rather dry sequence of corporate policy recommendations. The recommendations seem stale, but they establish ample justification for your boss to buy it for you. (Perhaps another scam pulled off by Mitnick?).

    If I have any criticism it is that, despite the title, the book concentrates on the defensive side of the 'art'. There are no lists of suggested exercises to practice each method; instead short case analyses are concluded with steps to avoid being a victim. Also, the acknowledgements section is plainly a nauseous gush.

    The writing style of the bulk of the book is great though: easy and engrossing. If you tore off the last third of the book, it would stand on its own as a must-read for anyone interested in modern deception and fraud.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2005

    Amazing Book

    This book is undoubtably a good read. It kept my intrest the whole way through. I am a social engineer but i wanted to learn more about this subject so i picked up this book and my skills improved alot. I only use my social engineering skills for talking my way out of on into things i dont think its worth the risk of diong some of the things in this book. SO DONT ATTEMPT ANY THING U READ IN THIS BOOK!!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2005

    Is it worth it?

    This book is easily one of the greatest books that I have read to date and would recommend any book written by the great coder and computer enthusiast Kevin Mitnick. If you want a book that not only tells of the attack side of a computer intrusion, but also the tracking side, then this book is the one for you. I also strongly recommend that big companies have all employees that work with sensitive data to read this book to protect against social engineering.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 2, 2005


    Never in my life have books kept my attention, but I must say this book is truly amazing! I love the wording and the storys that are used. I have learned so much from Kevin.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2002

    The Greatest Hack

    Kevin Mitnick¿s ¿The Art of Deception¿ is his greatest (to date) successful attempt of the ¿hacking¿ on a mass scale. Not only he got to disseminate the craft cleverly bypassing probation restrictions, but also in doing so he legitimately got paid. Bravo. The content - amusing (hence 3 stars) mix of anecdotes and corporate manuals, presents no news to a professional. Better books were written on the subject. It is also unfortunate that the term "social engineering" stuck, though the desire of a con man to call himself an artist is understood.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2002

    Packed with Knowledge!

    In The Art of Deception, Kevin D. Mitnick, a corporate security consultant who was once arrested for computer hacking, has written a fascinating book about how to control security lapses due to the ¿human element.¿ With writer William L. Simon, he describes how con artists use social engineering to gain information by lying to pass themselves off as insiders. By being sensitive to human behavior and taking advantage of trust, they learn to bypass your security systems. The book teaches you how to ward off such threats and educate employees. Yet, problematically, this information could also help con artists be more sophisticated. In any case, this highly informative, engaging book includes sample conversations that open the door to information, along with tips about how various cons are used and what to do about them. We from getAbstract recommend this book to corporate officers, information managers, human resource directors and security personnel, but don¿t tell anybody.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2002

    This is a *great* KISS and TELL story!

    Only the most arrogant Sys Admin, Manager or simple reader would read these tales and not wonder WHEN one of Mitnick's described social engineering techniques has been used on them or their colleagues. The book flows smoothly and demonstrates clearly how vulnerable EVERYONE is to manipulation. I was surprised and pleased that such a book is not banned. It reads much like a 'bad guys' HOWTO--But, since this info is already available to those who would take advantage, making the info available to the community at large educates and strengthens the rest of us. If only Senior Execs would read this book and learn--they could take us all a huge step forward; toward securing and protecting the data we are responsible for. And everyone, from the medtech to the artist, even those without computers to defend, would benefit by reading it. It teaches us definitively about human nature and human vulnerabilities. The book is about INFORMATION--how people try to steal or manipulate it, and how we can protect our information and ourselves. Mitnick, while never truly reviled by computer folks, may have just redeemed himself in Society. I'd be tempted to give him his freedom and his modem back, with the implicit request that he hack only to 'do good'. I paid $30ish for the book in-store, and wouldn't sell it off for less than a $100. It's always the stuff that seems so obvious once you read it, that you really do need to read and know. Mitnick and Simon are providing a gift of understanding. Take it. READ IT.

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    Posted October 13, 2011

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    Posted February 19, 2011

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