Que Pasa: Kevin Mitnick: The Art of Deception

He was the most sought-after hacker by the FBI in the 1990s and considered a threat to US security. For having assaulted the computer systems of governments and large companies. How does a pursued justice become one of the White House's top advisers?

(Translated from Spanish using Google Translator)

Maybe it all starts the day his father left him.

Kevin Mitnick (1963) does not talk much of those years, but the truth is that at that time he had to stay alone with his mother, who worked as a waitress in a restaurant in Los Angeles. Somehow, life forced him to become a lonely child. It all began to change, however, the day he discovered that there was a magic shop in the corner of his house. It was as if a world had opened up. There, in the middle of letters and games, he would spend a good part of his childhood: he would grab his bicycle and go to the store to see how the salesmen did tricks. Mitnick wanted to know the secrets, to be a magician like them. Until one day, that place was not enough: that lonely boy also began to get bored of those tricks and also of the life that took with his mother, Who had three husbands and boyfriends who did not always get along with him - as he recounts in his latest book, Ghost in the Wires -. One of them, in fact, abused him.

That boy who wanted to be a magician, one day, already a teenager, was going to discover that he had a special talent. It was the 70's and in schools just started computer classes. To say computers of that time is to talk about very slow and basic machines, where practically nothing could be done. But they were, then, the future, an unknown that generated curiosity in all the boys. Mitnick, at first, did not interest him so much, but one day it came to the realization that his teacher and his colleagues occupied the same terminal, so if the operating system intervened, he could have access to the key of it. And that's what he did.

When the teacher found out - after he told her - he told her he was a genius.

What this teacher did not know is that there began the story that would mark the life of Mitnick. Because from that moment, already conscious of the talent that had, began to construct the biography of who is considered to this day the most famous hacker in the world. A man who at one time was billed as the greatest threat to national security and wanted by the FBI because of his abilities to penetrate the most encrypted security systems, obtain corporate secrets, and then sneak out of justice without a trace. The man who for 30 years would steal numerous data files, credit cards, and secret keys to gain access to the operating systems of the world's 40 most powerful companies, government agencies, banks and universities.

That genius, which would make the main US intelligence services ridiculous, and who is now giving lectures on cybersecurity for which he collects millions of dollars, is the reason that brought him this week to Santiago, where he participated in an organized meeting By Entel.

Although before becoming a prestigious lecturer, Mitnick was in prison - paying for his cybercrime - and suffered the loss of his brother, which would ultimately mark his fate.


"Today would be like Pablo Escobar if he had become a pharmaceutical technician. Only in Colombia they would not have allowed it, "Mitnick says, sitting in a room in the Intercontinental Hotel, after giving a lecture titled" The challenges of security in digital business. " Because today, Mitnick has a security consultant in Los Angeles and is on the bright side of the law. But to get here is a long history of illicit, a life hacking companies and different entities that ended up leading to the dark. But let's not go ahead. Let us return, in fact, to those school years, when he began to study Programming on his own. Let's go back to that day, when I was 16, where a McDonald's intervened and took over the loudspeaker where customers, in cars, They made their orders. "I am sorry. We do not serve cops here. You'll have to go to Jack in the Box, "he told an agent when he announced his assignment. Another of her usual jokes, when a woman placed her order, was: "Show me your breasts, and your Big Mac will be free."


Everything was, at that time, a game. However, a year later he stormed the offices of Pacific Bell telephone company and stole communication manuals with friends. They soon stopped him. It was his first conflict with justice, and he was given parole. The following year, with only a computer and a modem, he illegally entered the computer system of the American Air Defense and managed to control the headquarters of three telephone companies in Manhattan and the California telephone network. What did Mitnick do with that power? Pitanzas. Anyone who was on his blacklist, on call would get the answer from a tape recorder: "Please deposit 25 cents."

At that point, Mitnick was the David Copperfield of computing. A man who had learned the art of cheating.

"He was an incorrigible rebel," he recalls almost forty years later.

That way he would live his youth, between hacking and preventive prisons, while he was a student at the University of Southern California. Until in 1989 they condemned him for a year, thanks to which his defense argued that it had addiction to the computers. Something as if he had suffered from gambling. They underwent a six-month rehabilitation, with a treatment similar to that of Alcoholics Anonymous. But his abstinence was not whiskey , but the use of any computer or modem. There he lost more than 45 kilos.

-What did you feel when you were in front of a computer?

"It's like being in a video game for me." It's addictive.

Mitnick speaks with strength and security. His tone is not guilty or recriminatory, but honest.

His life, then, seemed to be controlled, but it was in those years when his brother died in strange circumstances. Mitnick does not understand, he does not know, he despairs and the addiction for computers returns: he wants to discover how his brother died and knows that he has the talent to get all the information that is necessary. That's when he decides to hack the computers of a telephone company to discover the truth and return to his wanderings. There, without imagining it, it turned out to be the most wanted fugitive by the FBI. They offered a million dollars for their capture.

"I wanted to figure out how he died." The police were not doing anything. They did the autopsy and said that he had died from drug overdose, but he was not a drug addict and I assumed he was killed. I did the work of a private investigator, getting into the phone company records, to see if the cell phones left a trace of the location of the suspects.

"Did you finally discover the killer?"

"No, I finally learned that it was my uncle, who was a drug addict, and that he mistakenly gave him an overdose of heroin. It was very hard and I still do not have a clear answer.


It was not going to be a long time when Mitnick would be at large. Ironically, it was a hacker who found his whereabouts . It is in these years that Mitnick becomes the most famous hacker in the world, attacking different companies like Nokia or Motorola, or the University of Southern California. However, he makes an unforgivable mistake: the personal computer of the Japanese businessman Tsutomu Shimomura, a cybersecurity expert, intervenes. There begins its end. Because it was a matter of honor for this samurai to catch the one who took over the valuable secrets of his security system and bring him to justice. And that's what he did. In an operation led by the FBI in February 1995, Mitnick would be arrested at his home.

"What do you think of all this time?"

"I regret many of the things I did, but I look forward. Today, I'm doing the same thing I did when I started, but now I'm hired to hack into businesses and check that their security systems work.

"Did you feel above justice and the law?"         

"No, you do not think about the consequences. It was not meant to earn money, nor was it malicious, but mischievous. I knew I was breaking the law, but for me it was something minor. The problem is that I made the FBI ridiculous and made them angry. I just threw these people over.

-He is now a consultant to Fortune 500 companies and various governments, and gives talks around the world on cyber security. What made you change?

I nodded, realizing it was not the right way. Although the damage it caused was not intentional, it was just like that, "explains Mitnick, who two months after his release from prison in early 2000, the US government hired him to advise him on cyber security systems.

"I had to gain the confidence of the community again and prove to the world that I wanted to help with my experience. It took me years to regain that confidence. "

"What do you think of Edward Snowden?"

"He's an informer, but he did the right thing by exposing the US government's illegals of spying on the citizens, which were the very crimes the White House pursued me for years.

Read this great interview and other cool posts at the source.

Source: Que Pasa

Topics: The Art of Deception, Edward Snowden, hacking addiction, Pacific Bell manuals, Tsutomu Shimomura, computer security expert, cybersecurity expert, death of brother, Kevin's childhood, keynote speaker, stealing data, Fortune 500 consultant, Ghost in the Wires, Kevin Mitnick, McDonald's loudspeaker prank

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