The first computer hacker in the world
Kevin David Mitnick (born August 6, 1963) is an American computer security consultant, author, and hacker, best known for his high-profile 1995 arrest and later five years in prison for various computer and communications-related crimes. Mitnick’s pursuit, arrest, trial, and sentence along with the associated journalism, books, and films were all controversial. He now runs the security firm Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC which helps test companies’ security strengths and weaknesses, and potential loopholes. He is also the Chief Hacking Officer of the security awareness training company KnowBe4, as well as an active advisory board member at Zimperium firm that develops a mobile intrusion prevention system.
At age 13, Mitnick used social engineering and dumpster diving to bypass the punch card system used in the Los Angeles bus system. After he convinced a bus driver to tell him where he could buy his own ticket punch for “a school project”, he was able to ride any bus in the greater LA area using unused transfer slips he found in a dumpster next to the bus company garage. Social engineering later became his primary method of obtaining information, including user names and passwords, and modem phone numbers.
Mitnick first gained unauthorized access to a 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 their 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’s voicemail 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-mails. Probably the most famous hacker of his generation, Mitnick has been described by the US Department of Justice as “the most wanted computer criminal in United States history.” The self-styled ‘hacker poster boy’ allegedly hacked into the computer systems of some of the world’s top technology and telecommunications companies including Nokia, Fujitsu, and Motorola. After a highly publicized pursuit by the FBI, Mitnick was arrested in 1995 and after confessing to several charges as part of a plea-bargain agreement, he served a five-year prison sentence. He was released on parole in 2000 and today runs a computer security consultancy. He didn’t refer to his hacking activities as ‘hacking’ and instead called them ‘social engineering’. Kevin Mitnick’s journey as a computer hacker has been so interesting and compelling that the U.S. Department of Justice called him the “most wanted computer criminal in U.S. history.” His story is so wild that it was the basis for two featured films.
What did he do? After serving a year in prison for hacking into the Digital Equipment Corporation’s network, he was let out for 3 years of supervised release. Near the end of that period, however, he fled and went on a 2.5-year hacking spree that involved breaching the national defense warning system and stealing corporate secrets.
Mitnick was eventually caught and convicted, ending with a 5-year prison sentence. After serving those years fully, he became a consultant and public speaker for computer security. He now runs Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC.
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