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The Legend Computer hacker Kevin Mitnick!

Kevin Mitnick, a notorious hacker, exploited the largest tech companies on the planet by manipulating people into doing things they wouldn’t normally do. He used Photoshop to forge his own ID and followed employees back from smoke breaks through the back door, exploiting the common courtesy of holding the door open for the person behind you. He then let in his hacking buddy, who would access the locked office of the company’s network engineers. Once inside, he installed a bootable version of the system loaded with hacking tools, including malware that enabled him to access keystrokes, steal passwords, and activate the webcam. He eventually found his way to the heart of the system, the servers responsible for handling customer transactions, and decrypted millions of credit card numbers.

Mitnick’s obsession with exploiting systems started when he was young, as he spent a lot of time alone. He became obsessed with phone phreaking, manipulating telephone networks to make free long-distance calls, and using technology to play pranks. At 17, he targeted the critical operating system of Pacific Bell, later known as AT&T. However, his friend Lenny DiCicco betrayed him, and Kevin and Lenny remotely infiltrated DEC to steal the source code. The FBI got involved, and Lenny secretly recorded his conversations with Kevin. When the Feds arrested Kevin, he said that Lenny was “dancing in a little circle of joy,” which would haunt him.

After serving a year in prison, Kevin decided to change the electronic serial number of his Novatel PTR-825 to avoid tracking. He posed as an engineer and obtained the ESNs of recently activated phones from an electronics store. Kevin was introduced to a supposed hacker named Eric through his half-brother’s ex-girlfriend. Eric was secretive and didn’t give Kevin his phone number or pager number. Kevin’s gut told him something was off, so he decided to dig deeper into Eric’s background. Kevin’s friend Dave set up a trap with a bait phone number, allowing them to capture Eric’s phone number through the system’s caller ID. Kevin then accessed the call logs of Eric’s phone line and found calls to the Los Angeles headquarters of the FBI. Kevin devised an elaborate scheme to obtain Eric’s social security number, posing as a member of the Office of the Inspector General at the Social Security Administration. He was able to obtain information about Eric Heinz Sr., likely Eric’s father, and manipulated the Department of Motor Vehicles to read him Petersen’s physical description.

Kevin infiltrated PacTel’s system to track call records and locate their locations. In September 1992, Kevin’s scanner detected the cell phone of FBI Special Agent Ken McGuire. Kevin’s close calls with authorities escalated, and he was arrested for violating his probation by hacking and associating with other hackers. He adopted a new identity, Eric Weiss, and planned to do his own disappearing act.

To solidify his persona, Kevin infiltrated a credit reporting agency and the Social Security Administration. He moved to Denver and worked in the IT department of a prominent law firm. He set his sights on obtaining the source code for Motorola’s MicroTAC Ultra Lite and Nokia’s internal network. He deceived Nokia England’s IT department into giving him login details to connect to its operating system.

Kevin then set his sights on a secretive digital phone under development called the HD760. He contacted Markku, who agreed to share the latest source code. However, Nokia blocked outbound file transfers for security reasons, following alerts triggered when Kevin created his new account.

Kevin eventually settled in Seattle due to its tech scene, Thai food, and good coffee. He adopted a new identity, Eric Weiss, and continued his hacking activities. Kevin, a cyber criminal, posed as a private investigator at South Dakota’s state registrar for vital statistics to obtain the identity of a baby who died. He was labeled “Cyberspace’s Most Wanted” by the New York Times and was eluding the FBI. The FBI received crucial assistance from computer security expert Tsutomu Shimomura, known as Shimmy. Shimmy was furious about Kevin’s hacking into his computer and discovered the intrusion using network monitoring tools. Kevin fled Seattle and renamed himself Michael David Stanfill, an identity he acquired after infiltrating Portland State University’s admissions office and accessing over 13,000 student records. Kevin’s deception unraveled when he attempted to avoid paying a $400 deposit for new electricity customers by requesting a reference letter from his utility company. Kevin chose another alias, G. Thomas Case, and the Feds were closing in on him. Kevin stored the files he grabbed from Shimmy’s server on a community forum called The Well, which had an automated alert system that notified users when they used a significant amount of disk space. Internet service providers granted Shimmy full access to their networks, and Kevin was able to figure out how much the Feds knew about him by hacking into journalist John Markoff’s emails.

Kevin was caught by the FBI after he manipulated the system to access the internet through Netcom’s dial-up modems in Denver and Raleigh. He manipulated the system to use a phone number that was not assigned to any customer but still appeared legitimate. A Spring engineer focused on calls placed to the manipulated number rather than from it, leading to a Raleigh area code. Kevin’s attempts to connect to Netcom through a different cell phone provider were unsuccessful, and all cell phone companies were on the alert for any strange activity.

Kevin was convicted of seven counts, including wire fraud, computer fraud, possession of access devices, and interception of data communications. He served five years in prison and was released in 2000. After his release, Mitnick shared his insights on the human side of computer security, arguing that companies spend millions of dollars on firewalls, encryption, and secure access devices without addressing the weakest link in the security chain. Mitnick became the world’s most famous hacker and CEO of Mitnick Security Consulting, using his hacking skills ethically to advise companies on strengthening their security and sharing helpful everyday advice. Kevin Mitnick passed away in 2023, and his insights have changed how companies and individuals protect their most sensitive data.

Image Courtesy of Campus Party México , CC BY 2.0,

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