The art of hacking has been in development for many years. The heyday of hacking was before the Internet even existed. There are amazing and exciting stories about hackers who hacked for notoriety, money, street cred, and just for personal accomplishment.
Before the Internet, there were still many targets for hackers. Hackers reverse engineered casino games like slot machines. Hackers used social engineering and phone systems not only to have access to free long-distance calls but for financial gain.
It was during this pre-Internet era that the number one most infamous hacker on our list crafted and honed his skills: Kevin Mitnick
Kevin Mitnick’s early hacking exploits
Kevin Mitnik was born in 1963. When he was 12 years old, he used social engineering even before the phrase “social engineering” existed.
Kevin told a bus driver that he needed some information for a school project. The bus driver to provide him information about the bus ticketing system and how he could get his hands on his card punch machine.
Kevin then “dumpster dived” to get un-punched bus transfer tickets. Then he used the punch machine on the tickets to “hack” himself free bus rides.
At age 16, Kevin Mitnick gained access to the company network of DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation). This DEC system was used for the development of an early operating system that was used for 16-bit minicomputers.
Kevin Mitnick copied all of the files from the system but did not do anything malicious with the data. Even so, Kevin Mitnick was charged and sentenced to 1 year in prison in 1988. After he got out of prison, he was on a supervised release program for three years.
But Kevin Mitnick could not stop hacking
Just a couple of months before his three year probation period was over it was discovered that he hacked into Pacific Bell’s voice mail computers. Mitnick did this to listen to the voicemails of the law enforcement personnel who were monitoring and checking on him.
Instead of going back to prison, Mitnick decided to run.
Mitnick the Fugitive
Mitnick was hiding in the Denver area and using a false name and false ID. He continued hacking and broke into dozens of computer networks, intercepted passwords, broke into private email systems, and did many other things that hackers like to do. It was like he just could not stop.
Mitnick became the most wanted hacker in the United States.
It was 1992, and Mitnick was the most wanted hacker in the world. Rightly so, he was quite concerned that he would be caught by government surveillance methods.
So, he had a great idea. The best cell phone of that time was the Motorola MicroTAK Ultralite. If Mitnick could get his hands on the source code for this phone, he would be able to modify the ESN number and other identifying data that the phone sent.
He thought that this would keep the authorities from being able to track him.
So, Mitnick made a phone call.
It was easy enough. Kevin Mitnick called Motorola and was transferred around until he got in touch with the department that was working on the source code for the MicroTAC Ultralite.
Kevin was quite a social engineer, so he was able to convince the Motorola employees that he was also an employee and that he needed to get a copy of the source code.
Twenty minutes later, the Motorola folks transferred the file to him using FTP.
Mitnick was playing a game of cat and mouse with the FBI and some computer researchers who had been the target of Mitnick’s hacks. Cell towers and mobile antennas were used to track Mitnick to his apartment.
The gig was finally up – Mitnick was caught, arrested, and was on trial looking at a 15-year sentence.
Mitnick did not get 15 years but was sentenced and served five years in prison for his hacking. When he was finally released, he was not legally able to profit from books or films for seven years.
Kevin Mitnick Now
Kevin Mitnick is now a multi-millionaire. He is the author of many books on hacking and security. All of his books are best sellers and very well known in the cybersecurity world. His books include:
- The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security
- The Art of Intrusion: The Real Stories Behind the Exploits of Hackers, Intruders & Deceivers‘
- Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker
- The Art of Invisibility: The World’s Most Famous Hacker Teaches You How to Be Safe in the Age of Big Brother and Big Data
But beyond these books, Kevin Mitnick is a sought after speaker making tens of thousands per speaking gig. Mitnick also runs a well-known cybersecurity company: Mitnick Security.
Hacking Does Pay
At least, if you are Kevin Mitnick, it does. The most famous black hat hacker is now one of the most famous white hat security experts in the world.
Kevin Mitnick’s estimated net worth is now around 15 million dollars.
Donald Korinchak is a Cybersecurity Professional in the Washington DC area. Donald holds an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh Katz School of Business. Donald is considered a thought leader in business, leadership, and cybersecurity issues.