Kevin Mitnick: Hacking the FBI
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.
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 DIC'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 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was found with cloned cellular phones, more than 100 clone cellular phone codes, and multiple pieces of false identification.
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.
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". 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.
Kevin Mitnick: When the government was chasing me I wanted to get a sense of how close they were and to me this was a game. It was kind of like I was a little bit insane and I treated my fugitive status as a big video game. Unfortunately, it had real consequences and why I did this psychologically is I loved putting myself in dangerous situations and then trying to work my way out of them. I don’t know why I liked doing this, but I did. So what I did is I hacked into the cellular provider in Los Angeles that serviced the FBI cell phone numbers of the agents that were chasing me, so to make a long story short I was able to get the cell phone numbers of the agents and then by hacking into the cellular provider I could monitor where they physically were, physically in Los Angeles. I could also monitor who they were calling and who was calling them.
So based on my traffic analysis and my location data I was able to find out if the feds ever got close and one time they did. I had an early warning system set up in 1992 when I was working as a private investigator in Los Angeles and when the warning system was tripped off I found out that the FBI was actually at my apartment and I was a mile away in Calabasas, but I just drove in from the apartment to work, so obviously they weren’t there to arrest me and I didn’t think if they were still near my apartment that it was to surveil me, so the only logical thing is that they were there to conduct a search and that means to get a search warrant. They didn’t have a search warrant yet.
So in every criminal case when they have to get a search warrant from a judge they have to write down the precise description of the premises to be searched. It’s the Fourth Amendment stuff and so I figured out that that was going on and so the very next day I cleaned up—well that evening I cleaned up everything from my apartment that the FBI may be interested in and then the very next day went out to Winchell’s Donuts and got a big dozen assorted donuts and I labeled the box “FBI donuts” and I put it in the refrigerator. So when they were going to come search the only thing they would find is I had some donuts for them.
They searched the next day. They didn’t’ find anything. I don’t even know if they opened the refrigerator, but if they did they didn’t help themselves to a donut for some reason. I don’t know why.
Directed/Produced by Jonathan Fowler, Elizabeth Rodd, and Dillon Fitton
The hacker Kevin Mitnick says he treated his fugitive status like a big video game.
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