The story of Kevin Mitnick - The most famous hacker in the world
Described as Cyberspace's Most Wanted, Kevin Mitnick became a symbol of government oppression during the late nineties.
Described as Cyberspace's Most Wanted, Kevin Mitnick became a symbol of government oppression during the late nineties. Between 1995 to 2000, he spent five years in prison, out of which eight months were in solitary confinement. Charges? Wire fraud, interception of wire or electronic communications, unauthorized access to a federal computer, and causing its damage.
The story of Kevin Mitnick was heavily publicized and followed by controversy. This was the reason the public impatiently followed the development of his story. Today, when privacy is highly valued, and the fear of hackers is more real than ever, it’s important to know about these cybercriminals.
The story of Kevin Mitnick, the most famous hacker of all time, begins on the outskirts of Los Angeles in the sixties. As a child of divorced parents, with a mother working long shifts as a waitress, Mitnick was alone most of the time. The absence of a mother in his formative years gave him enough freedom to explore the whole of Los Angeles. Those early adventures proved to be a turning point for him, foreshadowing his future in hacking.
Spending so much time alone, he managed to find a way to “bust” the bus station’s security system, and get his fries for free, anywhere in LA.
His first real hacking experience occurred during his high school years. He and a fellow student became familiar with “phone phreaking,” and quickly learned how to obtain any information phone companies had on their customers. It didn't take him long to become absorbed in everything related to telephones and become as proficient as any other telephone company employee.
Kevin Mitnick: A master of social engineering
Kevin Mitnick claims he mastered influencing people and gave himself the title of Social Engineer. He claims he had a natural predisposition for it: his father's side of the family was in the sales business for years, and the art of influence and persuasion was in their blood. Combined with his natural inclination for deceiving people, he was destined to become a prolific social engineer. He discovered this natural inclination at a young age during his bus ticket trick, and later, he practiced the skill by using deception, specific language, and manipulation to get what he wanted.
The making of a hacker
Mitnick was first introduced to hacking during his high school years. At the age of just 16, while trying to impress his hacker friends, he managed to successfully hack the computer system at Digital Equipment Corporation.
Unfortunately, he was betrayed by his “friends” who disclosed his name, and he spent almost a year in prison.
When he got out, he spent his time hacking cell phone companies. Motorola, Nokia, and NEC were some of his targets. The FBI got involved sending Mitnick on the run. He was arrested more than two years later, on February 15, 1995.
In December 2017, a call for Mitnick's release was publicly displayed on the Yahoo! Website. The message was shared by the self-proclaimed Mitnick Liberation Front, and said that anyone accessing Yahoo in the past month downloaded a virus, which would destroy planets' networks unless Mitnick is released.
Before the actual court verdict, Mitnick spent almost four and a half years in prison, of which eight months were in solitary confinement. The police convinced the judge that he could start a nuclear war with nothing but a payphone. In 1999, he pleaded guilty for wire and computer fraud and the interception of a wire communication.
Mitnick was released in 2000, and by the end of his supervised release, he was forbidden to use any communication device other than a landline phone. However, he fought this decision, and won. But, under the plea deal, he was banned from profiting from films and books made in his name.
Since the beginning, Mitnick was surrounded by controversy. His supporters often argue that his punishment was excessive and much of his charges fraudulent. In fact, in his book, The Art of Deception, Mitnick explains that he was able to find and break a computer's weak spots by relying solely on his social engineering skills. Furthermore, his media-covered manhunt was based on rumor and government claims, never checking Mitnick's side of the story.
Today Kevin Mitnick has a consulting firm, specializing in helping companies find vulnerabilities in their system that hackers could potentially use against them. He’s also an educator on computer safety, and a chief hacking officer of KnowBe4, a company specializing in security.