Kevin Mitnick Interview after probation release in 2003

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Bonus interview with Kevin Mitnick on the 2004 “Freedom Downtime” DVD.

Freedom Downtime on Google Video:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6746139755329108302#

At age 12, Mitnick used social engineering to bypass the punchcard system used in the Los Angeles bus system. After a friendly bus driver told him where he could buy his own ticket punch, he could ride any bus in the greater LA area using unused transfer slips he found in the trash. Social engineering became his primary method of obtaining information, including user names and passwords and modem phone numbers.[2]

Mitnick gained unauthorized access to his first computer network in 1979, at 16, when a friend gave him the phone number for the Ark, the computer system 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, a crime he was charged with and convicted of in 1988. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release. Near the end of his supervised release, Mitnick hacked into Pacific Bell voice mail computers. After a warrant was issued for his arrest, Mitnick fled, becoming a fugitive for two and a half years.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Mitnick gained unauthorized access to dozens of computer networks while he was a fugitive. He used cloned cellular phones to hide his location and, among other things, copied valuable proprietary software from some of the country’s largest cellular telephone and computer companies. Mitnick also intercepted and stole computer passwords, altered computer networks, and broke into and read private e-mail. Mitnick was apprehended in February 1995 inRaleigh, North Carolina. He was found with cloned cellular phones, more than 100 clone cellular phone codes, and multiple pieces of false identification.[3]

After a well-publicized pursuit, the FBI arrested Mitnick on February 15, 1995, at his apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina, on federal offenses related to a 2½-year period of computer hacking.[9]

In 1999, Mitnick confessed to four counts of wire fraud, two counts of computer fraud and one count of illegally intercepting a wire communication, as part of a plea agreement before the United States District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles. He was sentenced to 46 months in prison plus 22 months for violating the terms of his 1989 supervised release sentence for computer fraud. He admitted to violating the terms of supervised release by hacking into PacBell voicemail and other systems and to associating with known computer hackers, in this case co-defendant Louis De Payne.

Mitnick served five years in prison — four and a half years pre-trial and eight months in solitary confinement — because, according to Mitnick, law enforcement officials convinced a judge that he had the ability to “start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone”.[10] He was released on January 21, 2000.  During his supervised release, which ended on January 21, 2003, he was initially forbidden to use any communications technology other than a landline telephone. Mitnick fought this decision in court, eventually winning a ruling in his favor, allowing him to access the Internet.

Under the plea deal, Mitnick was also prohibited from profiting from films or books based on his criminal activity for seven years.

Mitnick now runs Mitnick Security Consulting LLC, a computer security consultancy.

Controversy

Mitnick’s criminal activities, arrest, and trial, along with the associated journalism were all controversial.

Though Mitnick has been convicted of copying software unlawfully 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. He claims he did not use software programs or hacking tools for cracking passwords or otherwise exploiting computer or phone security.

Two books explored the allegations: John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura‘s Takedown, and Jonathan Littman‘s The Fugitive Game. Littman made four main allegations:

  • journalistic impropriety by Markoff, who had covered the case for the New York Times based on rumor and government claims, while never interviewing Mitnick himself.
  • 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 based on the book by John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura, with Littman alleging that portions of the film were taken from his book without permission.

The case against Mitnick tested the new laws that had been enacted for dealing with computer crime, and it raised public awareness of security involving networked computers. The controversy remains, however, and Mitnick is often cited today as an example of the quintessential computer criminal.

Supporters of Mitnick have asserted that many of the charges against him were fraudulent[11] and not based on actual losses.[12]

Media

In 2000, Skeet Ulrich and Russell Wong portrayed Kevin Mitnick and Tsutomu Shimomura in the movie Takedown, which was based on the book Takedown by John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura. The DVD was released in September 2004.[13]

A fan-based documentary named Freedom Downtime was created in response to Take Down.

Mitnick is the co-author, with William L. Simon, of two computer security books:

Publication of Mitnick’s autobiography, entitled Ghost in the Wires and also co-authored by Simon, is anticipated in August 2011.[16][17

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