Kevin David Mitnick, who was born on August 6, 1963, is a hacker, author, and computer security expert. He was found guilty of several computer and communications-related offenses in the late 20th century. He was the most wanted cyber criminal in the US during his arrest.
Mitnick attended Monroe High School while growing up in Los Angeles. He had classes at UCLA and Pierce College. For a while, he served as Stephen S. Wise Temple’s receptionist.
Mitnick used social engineering to get around the Los Angeles bus system’s punchcard system when he was 12 years old. He could ride any bus in the greater Los Angeles area using unused transfer slips he found in the garbage after a helpful bus driver revealed where he could purchase his own ticket punch. His main method of getting data, such as user names, passwords, and modem phone numbers, was social engineering.
When Mitnick was 16 years old, a buddy gave him the phone number for the Ark, the computer system Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) used to create the RSTS/E operating system software, allowing him illicit access to his first computer network.
He was charged with and found guilty of a crime in 1988 for breaking into DEC’s computer network and copying their software. He received a 12-month prison term and three years of house arrest. Mitnick broke into the voicemail systems at Pacific Bell near the end of his supervised release. Mitnick escaped when a warrant was issued for his arrest, spending the next 2.5 years on the run.
The US Department of Justice claims that Mitnick accessed numerous computer networks without authorization while he was a wanted man. He stole valuable proprietary software from some of the biggest cellular telephone and computer corporations in the nation, among other things, and used counterfeit mobile phones to disguise his whereabouts.
In addition, Mitnick changed computer networks, intercepted and stole passwords, and hacked into private email accounts to read them. On February 14th, 1995, Mitnick was found in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was discovered in possession of numerous fake identification documents, over 100 cloned phone codes, and duplicated cell phones.
Verified Criminal Offenses
- Getting free rides by utilizing the Los Angeles bus transfer system
elude the FBI
- gaining access to DEC systems to study the VMS source code (DEC reportedly spent $160,000 on clean-up expenditures)
- obtaining full administrator rights to an IBM minicomputer at the Los Angeles Computer Learning Center to place a wager and win
- compromising the systems of Motorola, NEC, Nokia, Sun Microsystems, and Fujitsu Siemens
Allegedly Criminal Acts
- Computer manuals were taken from a Pacific Bell call center in Los Angeles.
- Examine the emails sent and received by MCI Communications and Digital’s computer security staff.
- the DMV in California was wiretapped
- and called free on a cell phone
- FBI, Pentagon, Novell, California Department of Motor Vehicles, University of Southern California, and Los Angeles Unified School District computers were all compromised during the Santa Cruz Operation.
- NSA operatives were wiretapped, according to John Markoff. Initially denying it, Kevin Mitnick eventually acknowledged it while outlining his youthful offenses in an interview with Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report on August 18, 2011.
Arrest, Conviction, and Incarceration
The FBI apprehended Mitnick on February 15, 1995, at his apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina, following a well-publicized manhunt for federal offenses connected to 22 years of computer hacking.
In 1999, as part of a plea deal before the United States District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, Mitnick admitted to four charges of wire fraud, two counts of computer fraud, and one count of illegally intercepting a wire connection. As punishment for breaking the terms of his 1989 supervised release sentence for computer fraud, he received a sentence of 46 months in jail plus 22 more months. By breaking into PacBell’s voicemail and other systems, he admitted to breaking the rules of his supervised release. He also acknowledged hanging out with other known computer hackers, in this case, co-defendant Lewis De Payne.
Because, according to Mitnick, law enforcement officers persuaded a judge that he had the power to “start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone,” Mitnick was sentenced to five years in jail, including four and a half years before his trial and eight months in solitary confinement. In 2000, on January 21st, he was freed. He was initially prohibited from using any other form of communication throughout his supervised release, which ended on January 21, 2003, save from a landline telephone. In court, Mitnick contested this decision and subsequently prevailed, gaining access to the Internet. In exchange for his guilty plea, Mitnick agreed to a seven-year ban on financial gain from works of fiction or nonfiction based on his criminal activities. Now, Mitnick is the owner of the computer security consulting firm Mitnick Security Consulting LLC.
All of Mitnick’s criminal activity, arrest, prosecution, and related journalism generated controversy.
Despite being found guilty of illegal software copying and having many false identification documents, Mitnick’s supporters contend that his sentence was disproportionate. According to Mitnick’s 2002 book The Art of Deception, he only used passwords and codes that he obtained through social engineering to breach systems. He asserts that he didn’t employ software applications or hacking tools to break passwords or otherwise compromise the security of computers or phones.
Two books covered the claims: Takedown by John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura and The Fugitive Game by Jonathan Littman. Littman’s four primary claims were as follows:
- Markoff engaged in unethical journalism by reporting on the case for the New York Times based on rumors and official assertions without speaking to Mitnick personally.
- Government’s aggressive pursuit of Mitnick
- The public sphere exaggerates Mitnick’s actual offenses
- Shimomura’s involvement in the situation was unclear or may not have been lawful.
When the movie based on the novel by John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura was released, there was more controversy since Littman claimed that parts of the movie were copied without his consent from his book.
The prosecution against Mitnick put the recently passed laws meant to combat computer crime to the test, and it also increased public awareness of networked computer security. However, the issue persists, and Mitnick is still frequently used as an example of a classic computer criminal in modern times.
Many of the accusations made against Mitnick, according to his supporters, were false and not supported by actual losses.
In the 2000 film Track Down (known as Take Down Outside of the USA), which was based on the novel Takedown by John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura, Skeet Ulrich, and Russell Wong played Kevin Mitnick and Tsutomu Shimomura, respectively. September 2004 saw the release of the DVD. In response to Take Down, a fan-made documentary called Freedom Downtime was produced.
- In addition to his autobiography, Mitnick is a co-author of two books on computer security with William L. Simon.
- The Real Stories Behind the Hackers’, Intruders’, and Deceivers’ Exploits, by The Art of Intrusion
- The Practice of Deceit
- Ghost in the Wires: My Experiences as the Most Wanted Hacker in the World
Mitnick discussed his most recent book The Colbert Report on August 18, 2011. On August 23, Mitnick was featured in an interview on Coast to Coast AM’s “Hacking & Technology” episode. He made an appearance on the Triangulation episode of the TWiT.tv network on August 24.
On the technological news website Slashdot on September 12, Mitnick provided readers’ questions and answers. He had already been interviewed on Slashdot in February 2003; this was the second time.
In one of the in-game emails for the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Mitnick is also mentioned.
In the Grand Theft Auto III videogame by Rockstar, a nervous caller shouts “FREE KEVIN” on the Chatterbox Radio Station before the DJ cuts him off.
In the Rockstar videogame Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, a crazy caller claims he could “launch a nuclear attack by whistling into a phone”; this is a reference to the allegations levied against Kevin Mitnick during his previous sentence.