The man considered the world's best known hacker has said cyber espionage by nation states is a clear and present danger. However, Kevin Mitnick, who was on the FBI's most wanted list for a time, said he was less concerned by the threat of cyber terrorism. The former hacker, who now runs a cyber security consultancy business, said the ability of nation states to spy and break into communication networks is an ongoing threat. "That I consider a clear and present danger because it is happening," he said. "As far as cyber-terrorism is concerned I haven't seen it used to date."
Commenting at the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, where he is speaking and carrying out a live hack on stage this evening, Mr Mitnick said he believes Russian hackers did run a lot of operations on social networks to change people's opinions about subjects during the last US presidential election.
He also thinks Russians were responsible for breaking into the email of Hillary Clinton's campaign manager using a form of social engineering. "All this stuff is very real and did affect the US election, so it is actually a clear and present danger," he claimed.
The cyber security expert said there are many threats facing technology users today.
The biggest danger, he said, is the human factor - the threat of people working with and operating computers getting fooled into doing something on their system or revealing information.
He also said the era of the Internet of Things, where more and more devices become connected to each other and the internet, is increasing vulnerabilities, as is the advent of artificial intelligence.
"Every time technology makes things better and becomes more complex because it is more interoperable that creates a vulnerability," he told RTÉ News.
"All this stuff is code, programming instructions that developers actually make mistakes in. So what security researchers and hackers do is they find those mistakes so they can exploit them."
He said consumers could protect themselves by using password managers, employing Virtual Private Network services when connecting to open wireless systems and using a secure browser extension when on the internet.
He also suggested people use a dedicated Google Chromebook or Apple iPad when doing financial transactions online and that credentials for financial accounts should never be stored on a main computer.
Mitnick knows more than most about hacking.
As a young boy he was fascinated with magic and liked pulling pranks using the phone system, which he learned all about. But as phone companies became more computerised in the US he wanted to gain access to their computer systems to continue pulling pranks and so he learned how to hack. Later on, he said, he hacked into mobile phone companies to get what he called "the trophy" - the source code to the handset.
After 40 hacks of major companies he became a priority for the FBI, leading to a protracted chase and game of cat and mouse with law enforcement over several years.
He was finally caught in 1995 however, and was made an example of, spending five years in prison.
"My hacking wasn't about making money, it was all about the intellectual curiosity, the seduction of adventure and the pursuit of knowledge," he said.
Video - RTÉ NEWS :: https://www.rte.ie/news/technology/2018/0111/932600-kevin-mitnick/