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The Art of Deception The opening chapter of Kevin Mitnick's book "The Art of Deception,"





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Chapter 1
Kevin's Story
by Kevin Mitnick


I was reluctant to write this section because I was sure it would sound
self-serving. Well, okay, it is self-serving. But I've been contacted by
literally hundreds of people who want to know "who is Kevin Mitnick. "
For those who don't give a damn, please turn to Chapter 2. For everybody
else, here, for what it's worth, is my story.

Kevin Speaks

Some hackers destroy people's files or entire bard drives; they're
called crackers or vandals. Some novice hackers don't bother learning
the technology, but simply download hacker tools to break into computer
systems; they're called script kiddies. More experienced hackers with
pro- gramming skills develop hacker programs and post them to the Web
and to bulletin board systems. And then there are individuals who have
no interest in the technology, but use the computer merely as a tool to
aid them in stealing money, goods, or services. Despite the
media-created myth of Kevin Mitnick, I'm not a malicious hacker. What I
did wasn't even against the law when I began, but became a crime after
new legislation was passed. I continued anyway, and was caught. My
treatment by the federal government was based not on the crimes, but on
making an example of me. I did not deserve to be treated like a
terrorist or violent criminal: Having my residence searched with a blank
search warrant; being thrown into solitary for months; denied the
fundamental Constitutional rights guaranteed to anyone accused of a
crime; being denied not only bail but a bail hearing; and being forced
to spend years fighting to obtain the government's evidence so my
courtappointed attorney could prepare my defense.

What about my right to a speedy trial? For years I was given a choice
every six months: sign a paper waiving your Constitutional right to a
speedy trial or go to trial with an attorney who is unprepared; I chose
to sign. But I'm getting ahead of my story.

Starting Out

My path was probably set early in life. I was a happy-go-lucky kid, but
bored. After my father split when I was three, my mother worked as a
waitress to support us. To see me then an only child being raised by a
mother who put in long, harried days on a sometimes-erratic schedule
would have been to see a youngster on his own almost all his waking
hours. I was my own babysitter. Growing up in a San Fernando Valley
community gave me the whole of Los Angeles to explore, and by the age of
twelve I had discovered a way to travel free throughout the whole
greater L.A. area. I realized one day while riding the bus that the
security of the bus transfer I had purchased relied on the unusual
pattern of the paper-punch that the drivers used to mark day, time and
route on the transfer slips. A friendly driver, answering my
carefully-planted question, told me where to buy that special type of
punch. The transfers are meant to let you change buses and continue a
journey to your destination, but I worked out how to use them to travel
anywhere I wanted to go for free. Obtaining blank transfers was a walk
in the park: the trash bins at the bus terminals were always filled with
only-partly-used books of transfers that the drivers tossed away at the
end of their shifts. With a pad of blanks and the punch, I could mark my
own transfers and travel anywhere that L.A. buses went. Before long, I
had all but memorized the bus schedules of the entire system. This was
an early example of my surprising memory for certain types of
information; still, today I can remember phone numbers, passwords and
other items as far back as my childhood. Another personal interest that
surfaced at an early age was my fascination with performing magic. Once
I learned how a new trick worked, I would practice, practice, and
practice until I mastered it. To an extent, it was through magic that I
discovered the enjoyment in fooling people.

From Phone Phreak, to Hacker

My first encounter with what I would eventually learn to call social
engineering came about during my high school years, when I met another
student who was caught up in a hobby called phone phreaking. Phone
phreaking is a type of hacking that allows you to explore the telephone
network by exploiting the phone systems and phone company employees. He
showed me neat tricks he could do with a telephone, like obtaining any
information the phone company had on any customer, and using a secret
test number to make long-distances calls for free (actually free only to
us--I found out much later that it wasn't a secret test number at all:
the calls were in fact being billed to some poor company's MCI account).
That was my introduction to social engineering-my kindergarten, so to
speak. He and another phone phreaker I met shortly thereafter let me
listen in as they each made pretext calls to the phone company. I heard
the things they said that made them sound believable, I learned about
different phone company offices, lingo and procedures. But that
"training" didn't last long; it didn't have to. Soon I was doing it all
on my own, learning as I went, doing it even better than those first
teachers. The course my life would follow for the next fifteen years had
been set.

One of my all-time favorite pranks was gaining unauthorized access to
the telephone switch and changing the class of service of a fellow phone
phreak. When he'd attempt to make a call from home, he'd get a message
telling him to deposit a dime, because the telephone company switch
received input that indicated he was calling from a pay phone. I became
absorbed in everything about telephones-not only the electronics,
switches, and computers; but also the corporate organization, the
procedures, and the terminology. After a while, I probably knew more
about the phone system than any single employee. And, I had developed my
social engineering skills to the point that, at seventeen years old, I
was able to talk most Telco employees into almost anything, whether I
was speaking with them in person or by telephone. My hacking career
started when I was in high school. Back then we used the term hacker to
mean a person who spent a great deal of time tinkering with hardware and
software, either to develop more efficient programs or to bypass
unnecessary steps and get the job done more quickly. The term has now
become a pejorative, carrying the meaning of "malicious criminal." In
these pages I use the term the way I have always used it-in its earlier,
more benign sense. In late 1979, a group of fellow hacker types who
worked for the Los Angeles Unified School District dared me to try
hacking into The Ark, the computer system at Digital Equipment
Corporation used for developing their RSTS/E operating system software.
I wanted to be accepted by the guys in this hacker group so I could pick
their brains to learn more about operating systems. These new "friends"
had managed to get their hands on the dial-up number to the DEC computer
system. But they knew the dial-up number wouldn't do me any good:
Without an account name and password, I'd never be able to get in. They
were about to find out that when you underestimate others, it can come
back to bite you in the butt. It turned out that, for me, even at that
young age, hacking into the DEC system was a pushover. Claiming to be
Anton Chernoff, one of the project's lead developers, I placed a simple
phone call to the system manager. I claimed I couldn't log into one of
"my" accounts, and was convincing enough to talk the guy into giving me
accessing and allowing me to select a password of my choice. As an extra
level of protection, whenever anyone dialed into the development system,
the user also had to provide a dial-up password. The system
administrator told me the password. It was "buffoon," which I guess
described what he must have felt like later on, when lie found out what
had happened. In less than five minutes, I had gained access to
Digital's RSTE/E development system. And I wasn't logged on as just as
an ordinary user, but as someone with all the privileges of a system
developer. At first my new, so-called friends refused to believe I had
gained access to The Ark. One of them dialed up the system and shoved
the keyboard in front of me with a challenging look on his face. His
mouth dropped open as I matter-of-factly logged into a privileged
account. I found out later that they went off to another location and,
the same day, started downloading source-code components of the DEC
operating system. And then it was my turn to be floored. After they had
downloaded all the software they wanted, they called the corporate
security department at DEC and told them someone had hacked into the
company's corporate network. And they gave my name. My so-called friends
first used my access to copy highly sensitive source code, and then
turned me in. There was a lesson here, but not one I managed to learn
easily. Through the years to come, I would repeatedly get into trouble
because I trusted people who I thought were my friends. After high
school I studied computers at the Computer Learning Center in Los
Angeles. Within a few months, the school's computer manager realized I
had found a vulnerability in the operating system and gained full
administrative privileges on their IBM minicomputer. The best computer
experts on their teaching staff couldn't figure out how I had done this.
In what may have been one of the earliest examples of "hire the hacker,"
I was given an offer I couldn't refuse: Do an honors project to enhance
the school's computer security, or face suspension for hacking the
system. Of course I chose to do the honors project, and ended up
graduating Cum Laude with Honors. Becoming a Social Engineer Some people
get out of bed each morning dreading their daily work routine at the
proverbial salt mines. I've been lucky enough to enjoy my work. In
particular you can't imagine the challenge, reward, and pleasure I had
in the time I spent as a private investigator. I was honing my talents
in the performance art called social engineering-getting people to do
things they wouldn't ordinarily do for a stranger-and being paid for it.
For me it wasn't difficult becoming proficient in social engineering. My
father's side of the family had been in the sales field for generations,
so the art of influence and persuasion might have been an inherited
trait. When you combine an inclination for deceiving people with the
talents of influence and persuasion you arrive at the profile of a
social engineer. You might say there are two specialties within the job
classification of con artist. Somebody who swindles and cheats people
out of their money belongs to one sub-specialty, the grifter. Somebody
who uses deception, influence, and persuasion against businesses,
usually targeting their information, belongs to the other sub-specialty,
the social engineer. From the time of my bus- transfer trick, when I was
too young to know there was anything wrong with what I was doing, I had
begun to recognize a talent for finding out the secrets I wasn't
supposed to have. I built on that talent by using deception, knowing the
lingo, and developing a well-honed skill of manipulation. One way I used
to work on developing the skills in my craft (if I may call it a craft)
was to pick out some piece of information I didn't really care about and
see if I could talk somebody on the other end of the phone into
providing it, just to improve my talents. In the same way I used to
practice my magic tricks, I practiced pretexting. Through these
rehearsals, I soon found I could acquire virtually any information I
targeted. In Congressional testimony before Senators Lieberman and
Thompson years later, I told them, "I have gained unauthorized access to
computer systems at some of the largest corporations on the planet, and
have successfully penetrated some of the most resilient computer systems
ever developed. I have used both technical and non-technical means to
obtain the source code to various operating systems and
telecommunications devices to study their vulnerabilities and their
inner workings." All of this was really to satisfy my own curiosity, see
what I could do, and find out secret information about operating
systems, cell phones, and anything else that stirred my curiosity. The
train of events that would change my life started when I became the
subject of a July 4th, 1994 front-page, above-the-fold story in the New
York Times. Overnight, that one story turned my image from a littleknown
nuisance of a hacker into Public Enemy Number One of cyberspace.

John Markoff, the Media's Grifter

"Combining technical wizardry with the ages-old guile of a grifter,
Kevin Mitnick is a computer programmer run amok." (The New York Times,
7/4/94.) Combining the ages-old desire to attain undeserved fortune with
the power to publish false and defamatory stories about his subjects on
the front page of the New York Times, John Markoff was truly a
technology reporter run amok. Markoff was to earn himself over $1
million by single-handedly creating what I label "The Myth of Kevin
Mitnick." He became very wealthy through the very same technique I used
to compromise computer systems and networks around the world: deception.
In this case however, the victim of the deception wasn't a single
computer user or system administrator, it was every person who trusted
the news stories published in the pages of the New York Times.
Cyberspace's Most Wanted Markoff's Times article was clearly designed to
land a contract for a book about my life story. I've never met Markoff,
and yet he has literally become a millionaire through his libelous and
defamatory "reporting" about me in the Times and in his 1991 book,
Cyberpunk. In his article, he included some dozens of allegations about
me that he stated as fact without citing his sources, and that even a
minimal process of fact-checking (which I thought all first-rate
newspapers required their reporters to do) would have revealed as being
untrue or unproven. In that single false and defamatory article, Markoff
labeled me as "cyberspace's most wanted," and as "one of the nation's
most wanted computer criminals," without justification, reason, or
supporting evidence, using no more discretion than a writer for a
supermarket tabloid. In his slanderous article, Markoff falsely claimed
that I had wiretapped the FBI (I hadn't); that I had broken into the
computers at NORAD (which aren't even connected to any network on the
outside); and that I was a computer "vandal," despite the fact that I
had never intentionally damaged any computer I ever accessed. These,
among other outrageous allegations, were completely false and designed
to create a sense of fear about my capabilities. In yet another breach
of journalistic ethics, Markoff failed to disclose in that article and
in all of his subsequent articles-a pre-existing relationship with me, a
personal animosity based on my having refused to participate in the book
Cyberpunk In addition, I had cost him a bundle of potential revenue by
refusing to renew an option for a movie based on the book. Markoff's
article was also clearly designed to taunt America's law enforcement
agencies. "...(L)aw enforcement," Markoff wrote, "cannot seem to catch
up with him...." The article was deliberately framed to cast me as
cyberspace's Public Enemy Number One in order to influence the
Department of Justice to elevate the priority of my case. A few months
later, Markoff and his cohort Tsutomu Shimomura would both participate
as de facto government agents in my arrest, in violation of both federal
law and journalistic ethics. Both would be nearby when three blank
warrants were used in an illegal search of my residence, and be present
at my arrest. And, during their investigation of my activities, the two
would also violate federal law by intercepting a personal telephone call
of mine. While making me out to be a villain, Markoff, in a subsequent
article, set up Shimomura as the number one hero of cyberspace. Again he
was violating journalistic ethics by not disclosing a pre- existing
relationship: this hero in fact had been a personal friend of Markoff's
for years.

First Contact

My first encounter with Markoff had come in the late eighties when he
and his wife Katie Hafner contacted me while they were in the process of
writing Cyberpunk, which was to be the story of three hackers: a German
kid known as Pengo, Robert Morris, and myself. What would my com-
pensation be for participating? Nothing. I couldn't see the point of
giving them my story if they would profit from it and I wouldn't, so I
refused to help. Markoff gave me an ultimatum: either interview with us
or anything we hear from any source will be accepted as the truth. He
was clearly frustrated and annoyed that I would not cooperate, and was
letting me know he had the means to make me regret it. I chose to stand
my ground and would not cooperate despite his pressure tactics. When
published, the book portrayed me as "The Darkside Hacker." I concluded
that the authors had intentionally included unsupported, false
statements in order to get back at me for not cooperating with them. By
making my character appear more sinister and casting me in a false
light, they probably increased the sales of the book.

A movie producer phoned with great news: Hollywood was interested in
making a movie about the Darkside Hacker depicted in Cyberpunk. I
pointed out that the story was full of inaccuracies and untruths about
me, but he was still very excited about the project. I accepted $5,000
for a two-year option, against an additional $45,000 if they were able
to get a production deal and move forward. When the option expired, the
production company asked for a sixmonth extension. By this time I was
gainfully employed, and so had little motivation for seeing a movie
produced that showed me in such an unfavorable and false light. I
refused to go along with the extension. That killed the movie deal for
everyone, including Markoff, who had probably expected to make a great
deal of money from the project. Here was one more reason for John
Markoff to be vindictive towards me. Around the time Cyberpunk was
published, Markoff had ongoing email correspondence with his friend
Shimomura. Both of them were strangely interested in my whereabouts and
what I was doing. Surprisingly, one e-mail message contained
intelligence that they had learned I was attending the University of
Nevada, Las Vegas, and had use of the student computer lab. Could it be
that Markoff and Shimomura were interested in doing another book about
me? Otherwise, why would they care what I was up to?

Markoff in Pursuit

Take a step back to late 1992. I was nearing the end of my supervised
release for compromising Digital Equipment Corporation's corporate
network. Meanwhile I became aware that the government was trying to put
together another case against me, this one for conducting counter-
intelligence to find out why wiretaps had been placed on the phone lines
of a Los Angeles P.II firm. In my digging, I confirmed my suspicion: the
Pacific Bell security people were indeed investigating the firm. So was
a computer-crime deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's
Department. (That deputy turns out to be, co-incidentally, the twin
brother of my co-author on this book. Small world.) About this time, the
Feds set up a criminal informant and sent him out to entrap me. They
knew I always tried to keep tabs on any agency investigating me. So they
had this informant befriend me and tip me off that I was being
monitored. He also shared with me the details of a computer system used
at Pacific Bell that would let me do counter-surveillance of their
monitoring. When I discovered his plot, I quickly turned the tables on
him and exposed him for credit-card fraud he was conducting while
working for the government in an informant capacity. I'm sure the Feds
appreciated that! My life changed on Independence Day, 1994 when my
pager woke me early in the morning. The caller said I should immediately
pick up a copy of the New York Times. I couldn't believe it when I saw
that Markoff had not only written an article about me, but the Times had
placed it on the front page. The first thought that came to mind was for
my personal safety-now the government would be substantially increasing
their efforts to find me. I was relieved that in an effort to demonize
me, the Times had used a very unbecoming picture. I wasn't fearful of
being recognizedthey had chosen a picture so out of date that it didn't
look anything like me! As I began to read the article, I realized that
Markoff was setting himself up to write the Kevin Mitnick book, just as
he had always wanted. I simply could not believe the New York Times
would risk printing the egregiously false statements that he had written
about me. I felt helpless. Even if I had been in a position to respond,
I certainly would not have an audience equal to the New York Times s to
rebut Markoff's outrageous lies. While I can agree I had been a pain in
the ass, I had never destroyed information, nor used or disclosed to
others any information I had obtained. Actual losses by companies from
my hacking activities amounted to the cost of phone calls I had made at
phone-company expense, the money spent by companies to plug the security
vulnerabilities that my attacks had revealed, and in a few instances
possibly causing companies to reinstall their operating systems and
applications for fear I might have modified software in a way that would
allow me future access. Those companies would have remained vulnerable
to far worse damage if my activities hadn't made them aware of the weak
links in their security chain. Though I had caused some losses, my
actions and intent were not malicious ... and then John Markoff changed
the world's perception of the danger I represented. The power of one
unethical reporter from such an influential newspaper to write a false
and defamatory story about anyone should haunt each and every one of us.
The next target might be you.

The Ordeal

After my arrest I was transported to the County Jail in Smithfield,
North Carolina, where the U.S. Marshals Service ordered jailers to place
me into `the hole'-solitary confinement. Within a week, federal
prosecutors and my attorney reached an agreement that I couldn't refuse.
I could be moved out of solitary on the condition that I waived my
fundamental rights and agreed to: a) no bail hearing; b) no preliminary
hearing; and, c) no phone calls, except to my attorney and two family
members. Sign, and I could get out of solitary. I signed. The federal
prosecutors in the case played every dirty trick in the book up until I
was released nearly five years later. I was repeatedly forced to waive
my rights in order to be treated like any other accused. But this was
the Kevin Mitnick case: There were no rules. No requirement to respect
the Constitutional rights of the accused. My case was not about justice,
but about the government's determination to win at all costs. The
prosecutors had made vastly overblown claims to the court about the
damage I had caused and the threat I represented, and the media had gone
to town quoting the sensationalist statements; now it was too late for
the prosecutors to back down. The government could not afford to lose
the Mitnick case. The world was watching. I believe that the courts
bought into the fear generated by media coverage, since many of the more
ethical journalists had picked up the "facts" from the esteemed New York
Times and repeated them. The media-generated myth apparently even scared
law enforcement officials. A confidential document obtained by my
attorney showed that the U.S. Marshals Service had issued a warning to
all law enforcement agents never to reveal any personal information to
me; otherwise, they might find their lives electronically destroyed. Our
Constitution requires that the accused be presumed innocent before
trial, thus granting all citizens the right to a bail hearing, where the
accused has the opportunity to be represented by counsel, present
evidence, and cross-examine witnesses. Unbelievably, the government had
been able to circumvent these protections based on the false hysteria
generated by irresponsible reporters like John Markoff. Without
precedent, I was held as a pre-trial detainee-a person in custody
pending trial or sentencing-for over four and a half years. The judge's
refusal to grant me a bail hearing was litigated all the way to the U.S.
Supreme Court. In the end, my defense team advised me that I had set
another precedent: I was the only federal detainee in U.S. history
denied a bail hearing. This meant the government never had to meet the
burden of proving that there were no conditions of release that would
reasonably assure my appearance in court. At least in this case, federal
prosecutors did not dare to allege that I could start a nuclear war by
whistling into a payphone, as other federal prosecutors had done in an
earlier case. The most serious charges against me were that I had copied
proprietary source code for various cellular phone handsets and popular
operating systems. Yet the prosecutors alleged publicly and to the court
that I had caused collective losses exceeding $300 million to several
companies. The details of the loss amounts are still under seal with the
court, supposedly to protect the companies involved; my defense team,
though, believes the prosecution's request to seal the information was
initiated to cover up their gross malfeasance in my case. It's also
worth noting that none of the victims in my case had reported any losses
to the Securities and Exchange Commission as required by law. Either
several multinational companies violated Federal law-in the process
deceiving the SEC, stockholders, and analysts--or the losses
attributable to my hacking were, in fact, too trivial to be reported.

In his book he Fugitive Game, Jonathan Littman reports that within a week
of the New York Times front-page story, Markoff's agent had "brokered a
package deal" with the publisher Walt Disney Hyperion for a book about
the campaign to track me down. The advance was to be an estimated
$750,000. According to Littman, there was to be a Hollywood movie, as
well, with Miramax handing over $200,000 for the option and "a total
$650,000 to be paid upon commencement of filming." A confidential source
has recently informed me that Markoff's deal was in fact much more than
Littman had originally thought. So John Markoff got a million dollars,
more or less, and I got five years.

What Others Say

One book that examines the legal aspects of my case was written by a man
who had himself been a prosecutor in the Los Angeles District Attorney's
office, a colleague of the attorneys who prosecuted me. In his book
Spectacular Computer Crimes, Buck Bloombecker wrote, "It grieves me to
have to write about my former colleagues in less than flattering
terms.... I'm haunted by Assistant United States Attorney James
Asperger's admission that much of the argument used to keep Mitnick
behind bars was based on rumors which didn't pan out." He goes on to
say, "It was bad enough that the charges prosecutors made in court were
spread to millions of readers by newspapers around the country. But it
is much worse that these untrue allegations were a large part of the
basis for keeping Mitnick behind bars without the possi- bility of
posting bail?" He continues at some length, writing about the ethical
standards that prosecutors should live by, and then writes, "Mitnick's
case suggests that the false allegations used to keep him in custody
also prejudiced the court's consideration of a fair sentence." In his
1999 Forbes article, Adam L. Penenberg eloquently described my situation
this way: "Mitnick's crimes were curiously innocuous. He broke into
corporate computers, but no evidence indicates that he destroyed data.
Or sold anything he copied. Yes, he pilfered softwarebut in doing so
left it behind." The article said that my crime was "To thumb his nose
at the costly computer security systems employed by large corporations."
And in the book The Fugitive Game, author Jonathan Littman noted, "Greed
the government could understand. But a hacker who wielded power for its
own sake ... was something they couldn't grasp." Elsewhere in the same
book, Littman wrote: U.S. Attorney James Sanders admitted to Judge
Pfaelzer that Mitnick's damage to DEC was not the $4 million that had
made the headlines but $160,000. Even that amount was not damage done by
Mitnick, but the rough cost of tracing the security weakness that his
incursions had brought to DEC's attention. The government acknowl edged
it had no evidence of the wild claims that had helped hold Mitnick
without bail and in solitary confinement. No proof Mitnick had ever
compromised the security of the NSA. No proof that Mitnick had ever
issued a false press release for Security Pacific Bank. No proof that
Mitnick ever changed the TRW credit report of a judge. But the judge,
perhaps influenced by the terrifying media coverage, rejected the plea
bargain and sentenced Mitnick to a longer term then even the government
wanted. Throughout the years spent as a hacker hobbyist, I've gained
unwanted notoriety, been written up in numerous news reports and
magazine articles, and had four books written about me. Markoff and
Shimomura's libelous book was made into a feature film called Takedown.
When the script found its way onto the Internet, many of my supporters
picketed Miramax Films to call public attention to the inaccurate and
false characterization of me. Without the help of many kind and generous
people, the motion picture would surely have falsely portrayed me as the
Hannibal Lector of cyberspace. Pressured by my supporters, the
production company agreed to settle the case on confidential terms to
avoid me filing a libel action against them.

Final Thoughts

Despite John Markoff's outrageous and libelous descriptions of me, my
crimes were simple crimes of computer trespass and making free telephone
calls. I've acknowledged since my arrest that the actions I took were
illegal, and that I committed invasions of privacy. But to suggest,
without justification, reason, or proof, as did the Markoff articles,
that I had deprived others of their money or property by computer or
wire fraud, is simply untrue, and unsupported by the evidence. My
misdeeds were motivated by curiosity: I wanted to know as much as I
could about how phone networks worked, and the ins and outs of computer
security. I went from being a kid who loved to perform magic tricks to
becoming the world's most notorious hacker, feared by corporations and
the government. As I reflect back on my life for the last thirty years,
I admit I made some extremely poor decisions, driven by my curiosity,
the desire to learn about technology, and a good intellectual challenge.
I'm a changed person now. I'm turning my talents and the extensive
knowledge I've gathered about information security and social
engineering tactics to helping government, businesses and individuals
prevent, detect, and respond to information security threats. This book
is one more way that I can use my experience to help others avoid the
efforts of the malicious information thieves of the world. I think you
will find the stories enjoyable, eye-opening and educational.

--Kevin Mitnick



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