March 18th, 2002, 11:27 PM
A hacker's tale: from most wanted to most needed.
Until 1995, when he was jailed for five years in a US federal prison, Kevin Mitnick was at the top of the FBI's "most wanted" list, yet he had killed no one, had no links with the Mafia, had never dealt in drugs, committed serial rape or held up a bank.
Yet he struck fear into the heart of the US Government and corporate America. He was, and remains, America's most notorious cyber criminal, a hacker of great skill who, according to the evidence against him, penetrated some of the most sensitive databases in the world, stole software worth millions of dollars and cost the US Government a fortune before he was caught.
Today, Mr Mitnick is the poacher turned gamekeeper.
Released from prison in January, 2000, he is still banned from using a computer, logging into the Internet, using e-mail or a mobile phone, a prohibition due to be lifted on January 20, 2003 unless, as his supporters suspect it may, the US Government presses further charges against him.
Until recently, he was not even allowed to talk about computers or work in the field as a consultant, but those bans have been lifted and he will speak to Australians in May at an IT security conference in Sydney, telling delegates how to protect themselves against people like him.
He will not be here in person, but will be seen and heard via high-speed Internet video link, an event that, for him, represents a considerable breakthrough in the legal entanglements with which he has lived for almost seven years.
Meantime, Mr Mitnick makes his living with an elderly electric typewriter, writing syndicated newspaper and magazine articles, which he dictates over the telephone to a copytaker. He also earns money speaking as an expert in network design and management and, above all, security, to IT groups.
The manhunt for Mr Mitnick is one of the modern sagas of US criminal history. Teams of FBI agents and private investigators worked day and night tracking the elusive hacker through the labyrinths of the Internet and from one hideout to another before trapping him in Raleigh, North Carolina, not far from the main campus of IBM.
Many in the cyber community, particularly those who object to what they see as the hijacking of the Internet by crass commercialism, vigorously defend Mr Mitnick as the victim of big business and bigger government. Others say he was just a common thief. That the property he took was digital information in cyberspace made his crime no different than if he had tried to steal the crown jewels or truck gold bars out of Fort Knox, they say. He is said to have cost companies, among them Motorola, Novell, Nokia and Sun Microsystems, millions of dollars by stealing their software secrets and altering computer information.
Mr Mitnick's nemesis was not an FBI agent but a Japanese computer scientist, Tsutomu Shimomura, who is a senior fellow at the San Diego Supercomputer Centre in California. Mr Mitnick made the cardinal error of sneaking into Mr Shimomura's computer network and stealing data and e-mails.
Mr Shimomura saw Mr Mitnick's penetration of his network as a gross invasion of his personal privacy. From then on it was a case of the enraged samurai in search of revenge. His relentless pursuit of Mr Mitnick is seen by many in the hacker community as needless persecution of someone who, they say, did no real harm. It was, essentially, a case of one obsessive pursuing another to an inevitable conclusion.
Mr Mitnick's exploits produced several books, one, called Takedown, written by Mr Shimomura in collaboration with John Markoff, the New York Times correspondent in Silicon Valley, was made into a fairly unremarkable movie of the same name.
Mr Mitnick also featured in an earlier book, Cyberpunks, written by Markoff in collaboration with his then wife, Newsweek journalist Katie Haffner.
Critics of the campaign against Mitnick take some pleasure in noting that Markoff and Haffner split up.
Mr Mitnick is disparaging of most corporate and government security measures. Stealing an individual's identity is like taking lollies from a toddler, he says. Most people - even banks and similar financial institutions handling billions of the public's dollars - are woefully lax about passwords, user names and other data used to verify an individual. Many ask for the maiden name of a customer's mother and use that, and/or a birthdate to check an identity. Yet an even moderately keen crook can find such details readily available in public records, he says.
"Many governments and private organisations keep our so-called private information in widely accessible databases, and many opportunities exist for identity thieves to reach it," Mr Mitnick said in a recent article on IT security.
Hackers are everywhere.
Marty Gauvin, chief technologist of Hostworks, the big Adelaide-based company that hosts big Australian websites such as ninemsn and Ticketek, says his network receives an average of nine hacker probes a minute. Security is the name of Mr Gauvin's game and none, so far, has penetrated his defences.
But, for any manager in government or in business, such thoughts are chilling. In societies such as ours, recently passed laws promise harsh penalties for those who are careless with the privacy of other people.
Mr Mitnick may have been caught and punished, but tens of thousands of others are at work all over the world trying to emulate his exploit. Very few get caught.
March 18th, 2002, 11:37 PM
Good post, I think Mitnick deserves what he got.... He hacked a computer and he got jailtime.... Why should they make an exception for him?
March 19th, 2002, 12:11 AM
I don't think the extent was necessarilly fair, but then again I hardly ever do. I won't start on Mitnick stuff, cuz people get really pissy about it lots of times for some reason.
March 19th, 2002, 12:19 AM
who the **** cares about Kevin Mitnick? He's a relic of a time long since past.....end of story.
March 19th, 2002, 12:22 AM
March 19th, 2002, 05:44 AM
lol well i just find it interesting that he's working for the otherside this time.. instead of just using his skills for personal use he can help others in increasing the integrity of their seciruty..
I wouldnt mind going to the conference myself.
March 19th, 2002, 06:09 AM
One little question, though.........
If he's banned from using computers, etc............how's he staying on top of all the recent developments? Granted, some things [choosing good passwords, not writing them down, etc. ] never do change, and granted, he can read about new technologies in books..........but there's likely to be rather a long time delay between when information is available, and when he gets it. Unless he has someone surf the 'net for him, and print out the news?
This user powered by Linux.
March 19th, 2002, 06:45 AM
What’s the big deal about Kevin Mitnick? I mean granted it was a big deal in 1994 but I think the whole thing was totally blow out of proportion.
-Besides everyone knows that super hackers never get caught.
Its not software piracy. I’m just making multiple off site backups.
March 19th, 2002, 06:51 AM
I agree with cwk9
He paid his dept to society. Now its time to leave him alone.
March 19th, 2002, 07:07 AM
mitnick was a thief. he got caught, did his time, now they should leave him alone.
he badgered Shimomura for the 'data', info on the programming of a cell phone Shimomura was working on, busted his balls for it, when he wouldn't give it to him, he stole it. id be pretty pissed of too.
Bukhari:V3B48N826 “The Prophet said, ‘Isn’t the witness of a woman equal to half of that of a man?’ The women said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘This is because of the deficiency of a woman’s mind.’”