Deception Lessons from a Pro

Thursday, 9 January 2003, 1:04 AM EST

It takes a thief to catch a thief. That's the operative assumption behind The Art of Deception, a compendium of cons compiled by well-known computer break-in artist Kevin D. Mitnick, co-written with William L. Simon. Read closely and you, too, can learn quick, easy, and invariably dirty methods to purloin supposedly confidential information.

Deception 101 includes: how to perpetrate wire fraud by deceiving bank personel, how to steal someone's credit-card number by conning a video-store employee, how to dupe U.S. government clerks into handing out Social Security numbers, and even how to convince the staff of the local District Attorney's office to fax an arraignment to a copy shop where a crook on the lam can check out the charges against him and assess whether he really wants to go for the Big Sleep.

Sure sounds pretty sleazy -- but also supremely educational. All told, it's a sexy way to hammer home an increasingly relevant point: The weakest link in the information-security chain remains human nature. That's not a new point of view. Any information-security pro will agree that the best security technology can't prevent a skillful con artist from scoring the keys to a company's digital kingdom from unschooled and unsuspecting employees.

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