Kevin David Mitnick (born August 6, 1963) is a computer security consultant who was a controversial computer hacker in the late 20th century.
In 1999, Mitnick admitted to the authorities to illegally gaining access to computer networks and acquiring copies of software as part of a plea agreement before the United States District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles. Though Mitnick has been convicted of computer related crimes and possession of several forged identification documents, his supporters argue that his punishment was excessive. In his 2002 book, The Art of Deception, Mitnick states that he compromised computers solely by using passwords and codes that he gained by social engineering. Mitnick did not use software programs or hacking tools for cracking passwords or otherwise exploiting computer or phone security.
Mitnick served five years in prison, of which four and a half years were pre-trial, and eight months were in solitary confinement. He was released on January 21 2000. During his supervised release, which ended on January 21, 2003, he was initially restricted from using any communications technology other than a landline telephone. Mitnick fought this decision in court, and the judge ruled in his favor, allowing him to access the Internet.
Mitnick now runs Mitnick Security Consulting, a computer security consultancy.
Kevin Mitnick was born from Jewish parents and began social engineering, or perhaps discovered his first engineerable situation at the age of 12. He realized he could bypass the punchcard system used for the Los Angeles
bus system: by buying his own punch, he could get free bus rides anywhere in the greater LA area. Social engineering became his primary method of obtaining information, whether it be user names and passwords, modem phone numbers or any number of other pieces of data.
In high school, he was introduced by "Petronix" to phone phreaking, the activity of manipulating telephones, which he often used to evade long distance charges. Mitnick also became handy with amateur radios; using such equipment, Mitnick reportedly managed to gain unauthorized access to the speaker systems of nearby fast food restaurants.
Mitnick gained unauthorized access to his first computer network in 1979, when a friend gave him the phone number for the Ark, the computer system at Digital Equipment Corporation
(DEC) used for developing their RSTS/E
operating system software. He broke into DEC's computer network
and copied DEC's software, for which he was later convicted. This was the first of a series of run-ins with the law.
Acts by Kevin Mitnick
Kevin Mitnick's criminal activities, arrest, and trial were controversial, as was the journalism surrounding his conviction.
The controversy is highlighted by the differing views offered in two books: John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura's Takedown, and Jonathan Littman's The Fugitive Game. Littman made four notable allegations:
- journalistic impropriety by Markoff, who had covered the case for the New York Times
- overzealous prosecution of Mitnick by the government
- mainstream media over-hyping Mitnick's actual crimes
- Shimomura's involvement in the matter being unclear or of dubious legality
Further controversy came over the release of the movie Takedown, with Littman alleging that portions of the film were taken from his book without permission.
The case against Mitnick tested then-nascent laws that had been enacted for dealing with computer crime, and it raised public awareness of security issues involving networked computers. The controversy remains, however, as Mitnick is often used today as an example of the quintessential computer criminal although his exploits are less notable than his notoriety suggests.
Supporters of Mitnick have asserted that many of the charges against him were fraudulent and not based on actual losses.
Falsehoods have also surrounded Mitnick's exploits. For example, many mistakenly believe that Mitnick was once in the FBI's most wanted list. Federal prosecutor Kent Walker said in an interview with the New York Times that Mitnick "…was arguably the most wanted computer hacker in the world, he allegedly had access to corporate trade secrets worth millions of dollars. He was a very big threat". The headline of the resultant article, "A Most-Wanted Cyberthief Is Caught in His Own Web," was later picked up by Associated Press, Time Magazine and Reuters, thus perpetuating the myth.
Although some claim that Mitnick's actual actions may not have justified the level of official concern they received, the fact that his activities were criminal is not disputed. Mitnick's first adult criminal sentence was considerably shorter than is the norm today.
A documentary, Freedom Downtime, was released in 2001 by Emmanuel Goldstein and 2600 Films. It covers Mitnick's incarceration, Miramax's adaptation of Takedown, and the "FREE KEVIN" movement.
Attacks on Mitnick's sites
On August 20
, Kevin Mitnick's site was defaced
by a Pakistani group called FBH and the French hacktivist DkD[|| (http://www.zone-h.org/content/view/14073/31) with offensive messages against him. The domain names defensivethinking.com
displayed the vandalism
for hours before the affected files were replaced.
- The Web hosting provider that hosts my sites was hacked, fortunately, I don't keep any confidential data on my Web site, so it wasn't that serious. Of course it is embarrassing to be defaced—nobody likes it.
As a notorious figure, Mitnick has been targeted by hackers who wish to bolster their status and for people seeking to prove their abilities.
Zone-H reports that on one occasion, there was a struggle between different black hat and white hat hackers when some defacers put their nicks on Mitnick's site and fans replaced the vandalized copy with an original unmodified one. This went on for a full day.
- Kevin Mitnick is now a professional computer consultant (doing business as Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC), and has co-authored two books on computer security: The Art of Deception (2002) (Co-authors William L. Simon and Steve Wozniak), which focuses on social engineering, and The Art of Intrusion (2005) (Co-author William L. Simon), focusing on real stories of security exploits.
- He co-authored (with Alexis Kasperavicius) a social engineering prevention training course and certification: CSEPS.
- On August 20 2006, a Syrian editor, Nidal Maalouf, accused Mitnick of stealing his domain name (Syria-news.com). He falsely claimed that Mitnick is the FBI's No.1 wanted person for illegal acts against a number of internet sites. Maalouf was interviewed by the local newspaper "Bourses & Markets", and the interview was quoted by Al-Ayham Saleh on his personal website.
- Mitnick occasionally appears on the late night radio show Coast to Coast AM. He has also hosted the show, interviewing Steve Wozniak (on April 30 2006) and others.
- Mitnick has spoken at events: IAPP (International Association of Privacy Professionals) Privacy Academy in Las Vegas, October, 2005 (keynote speaker); National Youth Leadership Forum on Technology in San Jose, CA, in the summer of 2004; the Fifth H.O.P.E. in New York, NY, July, 2004 (keynote speaker); ITESM Monterrey Tec, in February 2003 (keynote speaker).
- Mitnick teamed with former high profile LAPD detective and globally renowned speaker, Robert Rebhan, in a joint keynote presentation to the Trinidad & Tobago Chamber of Commerce on how to mitigate the risk of hacking, social engineering and electronic scams & schemes.
- Kevin Mitnick was a "surprise guest" in the 40th TWiT podcast when he ran into Steve Wozniak by chance in Las Vegas. Wozniak was on the line with fellow TWiT hosts via Skype on his notebook computer, and Mitnick remained with Wozniak for much of the remainder of the show.
- Kevin Mitnick appeared on "Thebroken", an online videozine marketing itself as 'borderline legal.' He appeared on the third episode of the show, but was given mention in the first.
- Mitnick guest starred in a first season episode of Alias. The casting was an in-joke, since Mitnick played a CIA hacker. Due to the conditions of his parole, however, the computer he used in the scene was a prop.
- Kevin Mitnick appeared on the South African actuality programme "Carte Blanche".
- On 2 March, 2007, the WELL declined his application for admission, refunding his membership fee.
- Mitnick teamed up with John Walsh on the November 10, 2007 episode of America's Most Wanted on a segment on Edwin Pena, another computer hacker.
- Mitnick was a featured speaker at the The Last Hope Conference that took place on July, 18-20 2008 in New York City.
- Kevin Mitnick was a guest in the 163rd TWiT podcast. Mitnick discussed his recent detention at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport where he was returning from a security conference in Bogotá, Colombia. TSA said he was "randomly" chosen to be questioned and after spending a few hours in detention he was released without incident with all of his personal belongings including all his electronic devices. Coincidentaly, at the same time, a package that he sent via Fed-Ex, was wrongly found to contain cocaine. The content of the package was in fact a hard drive, which was dismantled and found to be clean. It was all returned to Mitnick.
- Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of Kevin Mitnick, America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw-By the Man Who Did It, by Tsutomu Shimomura (1996, ISBN 0-7868-8913-6)
- The Fugitive Game: Online with Kevin Mitnick, by Jonathan Littman (1996, ISBN 0-316-52858-7)
- Cyber Punk - Outlaws and Hackers On The Computer Frontier, by Katie Hafner & John Markoff (1995, Hardcover ISBN 1-872180-94-9, Paperback ISBN 0-684-81862-0)
- The Art Of Intrusion: The Real Stories Hello Behind The Exploits Of Hackers, Intruders, And Deceivers, by Kevin Mitnick (2005, Hardback ISBN 0-7645-6959-7, Paperback ISBN 0-471-78266-1)
- Littman, Jonathan "The Invisible Digital Man". Playboy. .
- Fost, Dan "Movie About Notorious Hacker Inspires a Tangle of Suits and Subplots". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved on 2007-04-24.
- Sociopathic.net is an ex hackers website written by Kevin Mitnik.
- 2600 Live Mitnick interview, 2600 Magazine, Released January 2003, Run time: 1 hr 18 min 5 sec
- Mitnick Security Consulting (formerly known as Defensive Thinking), Kevin Mitnick's new company.
- TAKEDOWN, last accessed May 7, 2006
- A CNN Interview with Kevin Mitnick, last accessed September 15, 2006
- Freedom Downtime, the 2600 documentary.
- The Kevin Mitnick/Tsutomu Shimomura affair - lots of information on the case.
- The missing Chapter 1 of Mitnick's book (or from a site where it appeared earlier, but in Microsoft Word format only.)
- Mitnick interview February 5, 2003
- The interview for HACK.pl