Computer Crime Research Center


Good hacker, Kevin Mitnick

Date: March 13, 2006

He can find George Bush senior's social security number and Leonardo DiCaprio's mother's maiden name in under 15 seconds, and led the FBI on a three-year manhunt as he hacked his way into the world's biggest firms.

"Computer terrorist" Kevin Mitnick is one of the world's most famous computer hackers and became a cause celebre after breaking into networks and stealing software at companies including Sun Microsystems and Motorola.

Now Mitnick, from the United States, travels the world teaching companies how to guard against people just like him.

He argues that while sophisticated technology can help keep networks clean from viruses, it is useless if hackers can con a company's employees into handing over passwords by posing, for example, as colleagues.

"Hackers find the hole in the human firewall," Mitnick told an information technology security conference on Wednesday in Johannesburg, South Africa. "What's the biggest hole? It's the illusion of invulnerability."

"Social engineering" as hackers call tricking people formed the main thrust of his career, in which he penetrated some of the world's most sophisticated systems often by persuading unwitting staff to hand over top-secret information.

Mitnick, now in his early 40s, started hacking phone systems in his teens before moving on to computers, but says he never stole money or caused deliberate damage and hacked just for the thrill of it.

The hobby earned him a place on the FBI's most wanted list and an almost five-year stint in US jail in the 1990s.

On his release he was initially banned from surfing the Web, and has since written two books about hacking and started an IT security consulting firm.
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