Monday, July 24, 2023

Kevin Mitnick, RIP

Kelly Kasulis Cho (via ednl):

Mr. Mitnick branded himself the “world’s most famous hacker,” as KnowBe4 called him in a Thursday statement. As the World Wide Web was slowly being adopted across the globe, he broke into the computer systems of companies such as Motorola, Nokia and Sun Microsystems, causing what prosecutors alleged was millions of dollars in damage.


In 1999, Mr. Mitnick pleaded guilty to several counts of wire fraud and other cybercrimes. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Upon his release in 2000, taking into account time already served in detention, he was prohibited from using the internet without government authorization, a right he won back only after a lengthy tussle with authorities.


It was not clear if Mr. Mitnick made significant financial gains from cybercrime, though he had the opportunity to do so. “My motivation was a quest for knowledge, the intellectual challenge, the thrill and the escape from reality,” he told a Senate committee hearing several months after he was freed from incarceration.

Alex Traub:

Ultimately, he was caught and spent five years in prison. Yet no evidence emerged that Mr. Mitnick used the files he had stolen for financial gain. He would later defend his activities as a high stakes but, in the end, harmless form of play.


Mr. Mitnick’s most spectacular crimes were his attempts to evade capture by the authorities. In 1993, he gained control of phone systems in California that enabled him to wiretap the F.B.I. agents pursuing him and confuse their efforts to track him. At one point they raided what they thought was Mr. Mitnick’s home, only to find there a Middle Eastern immigrant watching TV.


Mr. Mitnick ran into trouble on Christmas Day 1994, when he stole emails from a fellow hacker named Tsutomu Shimomura and taunted him. When he learned of the attack, Mr. Shimomura suspended a cross-country ski trip he was on and volunteered to help track down Mr. Mitnick.

Obituary (Hacker News):

Kevin emerged from his final prison term, which he deemed a ‘vacation,’ in January 2000. He was a changed individual, and began constructing a new career, as a White Hat hacker and security consultant.


The bus driver who saw young Kevin memorize the bus schedules, punch cards and punch tool systems so he could ride the buses all day for free testified as a character witness for Kevin during his federal trial. The federal prosecutor offered his testimony that Kevin never tried to take one dime from any of his “victims.” The probation officer assigned to monitor Kevin after prison gave Kevin permission to write his first book on a laptop when he was not yet supposed to have access to computers. Shawn Nunley, the star witness in the FBI’s case against Kevin, became so disillusioned with the government’s treatment of Kevin that he contacted Kevin’s defense team, helped garner Kevin’s release, and became one of Kevin’s dearest friends.

Jason Koebler:

We made this video with him a few years back, about how he convinced Motorola to send him their source code[…] and here’s how he hacked a McDonald’s drivethru when he was 16[…]

John Gruber:

Mitnick was technically gifted, but his greatest hacking skill was social engineering.

Nick Heer:

Mitnick’s exploits are legendary, and his first book [The Art of Deception] remains an essential read for anyone curious about security, hacking, manipulation, or human behaviour.

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