Monday, June 15, 2015

Takedown by Tsutomu Shimomura with John Markoff


Title: Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw - By the Man Who Did It
Author: Tsutomu Shimomura with John Markoff
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: WORTHY!

This rather un-originally titled book (I'm talking about the 'Takedown' part of it, not the mouthful that follows) is Shimomura's account (as told by John Markoff) of the tracking and eventual arrest of hacker Kevin Mitnick, but since Shimomura is an astrophysicist, used maybe to writing scientific papers and technical reports rather than popular books, how much of this is his writing and how much is journalist John Markoff's is anyone's guess.

Either way, I have to say I wasn't impressed by the writing quality, which had way too much extraneous detail for me and I'm guessing, for your average reader, including unimportant details of Shimomura's day-to-day living, his surroundings, and his travels and personal issues. If the bulk of this had been excluded, the book would have wasted fewer trees, been tighter, and made for a lot better read. When we're hot on the trail of a very elusive hacker, I don't want to keep being interrupted with the minutiae of the tracker's itinerary and interactions with his girlfriend, I really don't!

That said, it's a fun read (I skipped the boring parts) as well as being both interesting and educational, although very dated now. I doubt that anything here (other than persistence and social engineering!) would be of much use to potential hackers in 2015.

Note that according to wikipedia, author Jonathan Littman and Mitnick himself have made allegations of questionable ethics, suspect legality, and journalistic impropriety against Markoff and Shimomura. Given that Mitnick has spent some significant time in trouble with the law and has served time for his illegal activities and poor ethical considerations, I'd take his complaints - especially the legality ones! - with a very large grain of salt, but the fact that Littman makes the same kind of arguments lends the issue more authenticity. I haven't read anything by Mitnick or Littman, so I can't comment further on this or on what kind of arguments they might have made to support their contentions.

This story is antique by computer standards, but it's nonetheless very engrossing (if you can get by the fluff) for anyone who has an interest in hacking and computer security, and how computers are breached and how those who breach them are tracked and brought to book. On that basis, I recommend this book. I also recommend the movie of the same name which tells this same story more briefly and somewhat more fictionalized, but is nonetheless a decent movie.


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