Genius comes in many forms. Kevin Mitnick has at least two, neither particularly admirable.
As he portrays himself in his bookGhost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker, Mitnick possesses a rare ability to penetrate sophisticated computer systems. Even greater than his technical skills, it turns out, is his ability to manipulate people, particularly the corporate drones who held the door open for his invasions.
Time and again, armed with little more than the name of a legitimate employee and a few bits of company jargon, Mr Mitnick was able to con people into delivering astonishing rewards: software source codes; lists of passwords; access to supposedly hardened systems. His book is a fascinating and often appalling tour of the ways in which human stupidity can trump human ingenuity - as well as an absorbing account of the author's activities and eventual capture.
In the years since his 2000 release from federal prison, Mitnick has become a computer-security consultant and speaker. Still, he can't hide a whiff of - pride? nostalgia? - for the depredations that landed him in the clink.
He got started early, figuring out how to trick the Los Angeles bus system as an alienated 1970s teenager before graduating into phone hacking, manipulating the telephone system into serving up endless free long-distance minutes. The book's foreword is written by another former phone hacker whose life took a decidedly different course: Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple.
In time, Mitnick graduated to out-and-out hacking, and the rise of PCs, wireless phones and the internet opened enormous new vistas for his activities. He mastered the art of "tailgating", following a pack of employees into a supposedly secure building, and honed his talent for conning people.
In the end, Ghost in the Wires provides ample evidence that the line between genius and illness can be a thin one.
* Bloomberg News