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The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security Paperback – October 17, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

The Art of Deception is about gaining someone's trust by lying to them and then abusing that trust for fun and profit. Hackers use the euphemism "social engineering" and hacker-guru Kevin Mitnick examines many example scenarios.

After Mitnick's first dozen examples anyone responsible for organizational security is going to lose the will to live. It's been said before, but people and security are antithetical. Organizations exist to provide a good or service and want helpful, friendly employees to promote the good or service. People are social animals who want to be liked. Controlling the human aspects of security means denying someone something. This circle can't be squared.

Considering Mitnick's reputation as a hacker guru, it's ironic that the last point of attack for hackers using social engineering are computers. Most of the scenarios in The Art of Deception work just as well against computer-free organizations and were probably known to the Phoenicians; technology simply makes it all easier. Phones are faster than letters, after all, and having large organizations means dealing with lots of strangers.

Much of Mitnick's security advice sounds practical until you think about implementation, when you realize that more effective security means reducing organizational efficiency--an impossible trade in competitive business. And anyway, who wants to work in an organization where the rule is "Trust no one"? Mitnick shows how easily security is breached by trust, but without trust people can't live and work together. In the real world, effective organizations have to acknowledge that total security is a chimera--and carry more insurance. --Steve Patient, --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From 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.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (October 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076454280X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0764542800
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (197 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Luke Meyers on March 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Mitnick has his own reputation to live up to with this book, which sets a pretty high bar for the audience who knows him as the "World's Most Notorious Hacker." Unfortunately, while he knows the material cold, his skills as an author are less stellar.

The vignettes describing various cons are, in the large, very entertaining. They're fictionalized, and sometimes the dialogue feels artificial. This book is supposed to convince us how easily people are victimized by social engineers. When the victim's dialogue plays too obviously into the con man's hands (for the purpose of illustrating the point relevant to the enclosing chapter/section), this goal is to some extent defeated. It's too easy to read unnatural dialogue and use that as an excuse to tell oneself, "I don't have to worry about that sort of attack -- I'm not that dumb!" More effort could have been expended in fictionalizing these scenarios without making them so difficult to relate to. Seeing how a con is performed is kind of like learning how a magic trick works -- it holds a similar fascination. Imagine seeing an amazing magic trick performed on television, wondering how it was possibly accomplished, and then learning that the trick was all in the video editing. That really sucks the fun out of the magic -- analogously, when the "trick" in one of these cons is just that the victim does something obviously stupid at just the right moment, the believability and enjoyment are damaged.

Despite what I've said, the cons are definitely enjoyable to read and do offer some genuine insights. Not all suffer from believability problems. However, the supporting material discussing these scenarios is pretty weak. There's a rigid format ("Analyzing the con," "Preventing the con," etc.
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64 of 70 people found the following review helpful By Ben Rothke on October 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Kevin Mitnick says "the term 'social engineering' is widely used within the computer security community to describe the techniques hackers use to deceive a trusted computer user within a company into revealing sensitive information, or trick an unsuspecting mark into performing actions that create a security hole for them to slip through." It's suitable that Mitnick, once vilified for his cracking exploits, has written a book about the human element of social engineering - that most subtle of information security threats.
Some readers may find a book on computer security penned by a convicted computer criminal blasphemous. Rather than focusing on the writer's past, it is clear that Mitnick wishes the book to be viewed as an attempt at redemption.
The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security states that even if an organization has the best information systems security policies and procedures; most tightly controlled firewall, encrypted traffic, DMZ's, hardened operating systems patched servers and more; all of these security controls can be obviated via social engineering.
Social engineering is a method of gaining someone's trust by lying to them and then abusing that trust for malicious purposes - primarily gaining access to systems. Every user in an organization, be it a receptionist or a systems administrator, needs to know that when someone requesting information has some knowledge about company procedures or uses the corporate vernacular, that alone should not be authorization to provide controlled information.
The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security spends most of its time discussing many different social engineering scenarios.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dr Anton Chuvakin on October 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I waited for the book of the famous hacker Kevin Mitnick for a long
time, checking my mailbox every day after my pre-order was
completed. The book was almost worth the wait!
Its a fun book with lots of entertaining and education stories on what
is possible by means of social engineering attacks. The characters
clearly push the limits of this "human technology".
One of the articles I have read on the book called it "Kevin Mitnick's
Latest Deception" due to his downplaying of technology security
controls and emphasizing people skills and weaknesses. However, the
human weaknesses do nullify the strengths of technology defenses and
humans are much harder to "harden" than UNIX machines.
The attack side is stronger in the book than the defense side,
naturally following from the author's background. However, there are
some great defense resource on policy design, awareness and needed
vigilance. However, there is this "minor" issues with defense against
social engineering: one of the definitions called it a "hacker's
clever manipulation of the natural human tendency to trust". The word
"natural" is key; if we are to believe the definition, all defenses
against social engineering will be going against _nature_ and, as a
result, will be ineffective for most environments. Author also
advocates social engineering penetration testing, which appears to be
the best way to prepare for such attacks. Security awareness, while
needed, will get you so far.
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