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Kevin Mitnick Answers 161

Last week, you asked Kevin Mitnick questions about his past, his thoughts on ethics and disclosure, and his computer set-up. He's graciously responded; read on for his answers. (No dice on the computer set-up, though.) Thanks, Kevin.
Do you own a Guy Fawkes Mask?
by blair1q

Do you own a Guy Fawkes mask, or have an opinion of Anonymous' activities?

Anon & Lulzsec
by zero0ne

What are your opinions on the actions of groups like Lulzsec & Anon? Do you feel that they will, in the end, expand freedom on the net or just help government tighten the noose on Internet restrictions?

Kevin Mitnick: Sorry, I do not own a Guy Fawkes mask.

I don't think you can look at Anonymous as a single collective group. There appears to be many factions of it. Some are out there performing hacktivist activities that are being pursued with the true desire of keeping information free and holding our leaders accountable for their actions. Performing civil disobedience through illegal activities is probably not the preferred method, but I can understand what motivates these individuals.

As far as Lulzsec and other groups under the Anonymous banner that are just doing it for the "lulz," it reminds me of the prankster activities that many hackers have been involved in the past. This is part of the culture. Many of the attacks performed by these groups were going after the low-hanging fruit, and those vulnerabilities should have never been open to compromise. We trust these companies with our personal information. It is their responsibility to secure that data to the best of their ability. However, every time a major hack occurs, we are so focused on the attackers and never on the company that left your private information available to be taken. The media feeds this notion.

I don't think that the actions of groups like Anonymous will have much effect on expanding freedom on the net. Though some of their causes may be worthwhile, when you have groups like Lulzsec that just do it for the "lulz," the government has never understood these types of motivations and move harder to prosecute to make an example. So, the answer to your question is no. I would expect law enforcement would just make it a higher priority to curtail the actions of these kinds of groups.

Do as I do?
by wiedzmin

Do you lead by example, as in encourage hackers to do what you did, so that they can end-up as famous and well-paid security consultants? Or are you more of a "do as I say not as I do" type of role models?

KM: My hacking was always for personal pursuits. I never did it to make money. Naturally, I would try to dissuade anyone involved in legally questionable activities. There are so many opportunities these days to satisfy the challenge of breaking into systems and/or networks without breaking the law.

Though the fact that I am able to work as a professional security consultant and public speaker today is a blessing, the price I had to pay for it was pretty high.

How did you choose your targets?
by Rizimar

When you were hacking and breaking into systems, how did you decide which ones to break into? Was it because of the difficulty/ease of doing it with different security setups? Or was it because of the actual people/corporations/entities behind the servers and what they stood for?

KM: Usually, there was something of personal interest to me. I hacked into companies that developed operating systems to look at the source code. The reason I wanted to look at the source code was to discover security vulnerabilities in the operating system(s) that I could exploit. My goal was to become the best at hacking into any system I desired. To me it was like playing the ultimate video game, but with real world danger and consequences.

Later when I became a fugitive, I compromised cellular phone handset manufacturers to gain access to the handset source code for two reasons: (1) to create invisibility by modifying the firmware in my cellular phone; and (2) for the trophy; the harder the target, the more challenging it was to me.

Hi, Kevin. I'm one of your victims.
by Remus Shepherd

Hi, Kevin. I was told that my credit card information was among the thousands you stole from Netcom, way back in the day. I won't ask you what you did with the credit card info you stole, that might cause problems with self-incrimination. I wouldn't want that, oh no.

So let me ask this: How does it feel to be a 'respected' member of the security community now, after having frightened and hurt so many people back then? How does it feel to have the hacker community regard you as a hero when you've done some of the most amoral and harmful acts in modern computing history? I guess what I'm really asking is, how well do you sleep at night? Honestly.

KM: I did take a copy of the entire Netcom database, which also included the subscriber's credit card information, depending on the subscriber's payment method. I was never interested in the credit card information itself, only the user information associated with it that would allow me to reset passwords of Netcom users. The fact is, I was not the only one with these credit cards numbers. That database had been circulating on the Internet for months. I was merely one of many that had access to this information. This entire story is detailed in my new book — Ghost in the Wires — and once you read it, my objective for this hack will become clearer.

Was your identity ever compromised? Was your personal data ever leaked? If so, it wasn't me! That's because I never profited from my hacking activities, and there was never any disclosure of what I had come across or any of the source code materials that I obtained.

You stated: "You've done some of the most amoral and harmful acts in modern computing history?" You really need to get your facts straight. You sound like the government prosecutor who once claimed I could dial into NORAD and whistle into the phone to launch a nuclear missile. Or like the prosecutors who argued I caused 300 million dollars worth of loss by reading proprietary source code. It was a ridiculous argument.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission rules, if any of the victim companies in my case suffered a material loss, they are required to report it to their shareholders. Did Motorola, Nokia, Fujitsu, NEC, Sun, Digital, and other public companies report any losses attributable to my conduct to their shareholders? Not at all. So did all the above companies defraud their shareholders by failing to report a loss, or did the Federal prosecutors lie in order to get me a harsh sentence? You work it out.

I paid a heavy price for my activities. I sleep like a baby!

Is it cool any more?
by Hazel Bergeron

You have gone from hacker/cracker to security consultant via quite a difficult route. If you just wanted the money, there would have been far easier ways.

Today, the most well-known kiddies tend to do something high profile but requiring little technical brilliance and move quickly to "legitimate" jobs. The majority of "security consultants" don't really have much technical knowledge at all, being more public relations/ass-covering types.

With this in mind, what advice do you have to people who like to study security for its own sake? Should they keep quiet about what they do, developing an academic career so they can research to their heart's content without commercial pressures?

Or does everyone clever sell out in the end?

KM: First of all, I disagree with your assessment that the majority of security consultants don't really have much technical knowledge. I have working relationships with numerous security people that have substantial technical skills. I encourage others to pursue their passion in security in either the commercial world or in academia depending on their goals. Even in an academic career, your pursuits will be limited, as there will always be a line. For many security professionals, they continue to research security, even on their own time, to keep up with new developments and techniques.

Cybersecurity Companies?
by bigredradio

Kevin, do you suspect any collusion on the part of cybersecurity companies such as Kapersky Labs or Avast! and virus creators? If there were not so many exploits in the wild, would there be a billion-dollar anti-virus industry?

KM: I don't know about Kaspersky but I think it's ludicrous to assert that any anti-virus company would be involved with malware creators. These are large companies and the risk of being involved in this type of unethical behavior is too great.

Responsible Disclosure?
by gcnaddict

Should you find a security vulnerability (either in an open source project, a commercial product, or a company's hosted systems), what procedure would you consider "responsible disclosure" to the parties who are considered owners of the product? I recognize that each of the three cases listed above could vary significantly.

KM: I think you have to notify the developer of the product, so that they may create a solution for the vulnerability. They should be given a reasonable amount of time to correct the situation, and then it should be made public.

NOTE — Kevin clarified with this addition: Note too, I believe the software vendor ought to pay for the vulnerability information as security researchers should be paid for their time.

by Anonymous

What cybersecurity threats do you see as the most dangerous to the Internet now?

by zero0ne

What threat do you see as the most dangerous in 2, 5 and 10 years?

KM: Malware is probably the most substantial threat. Not only because it is so prevalent and being crafted better to avoid detection, but also because a large majority of internet users are oblivious to the dangers involved with clicking unknown links, authorizing Java Applets, opening attachments from people they don't know, and are easily fooled by average phishing attacks. People are still the weak link, and even intelligent ones make poor decisions. Case in point, the recent spearfishing attacks on Google and RSA, which proved highly effective.

Looking into the future is difficult as technology progresses so rapidly. In the next few years, as more and more corporations move towards cloud computing, these servers loaded with information are going to be the new playground for hackers. Layers of security need to be applied in any cloud-computing environment to minimize the risk.

With the recent hacks on Certificate Authorities, I would count on SSL becoming obsolete in the future and being replaced with a new, more robust secure standard, since the "web of trust" is no longer a feasible model.

With the proliferation of consumer devices coming onto the market that are internet-ready, I would expect to see more attacks at the heart of these new technologies. New devices, especially those branded by names like Apple, Microsoft, and Google, always tend to draw the attention of hackers from all over the world.

by mewsenews

The minor political movement surrounding your incarceration would likely not happen today. Hacking has become a state-sponsored activity, with China attacking Google and America/Israel attacking Iran. Do you think your life would be a lot different if you were born 10 years later?

KM: If you were asking if the circumstances would have been different had my hacking occurred ten years later, then I would say yes. The prosecutors would not have been able to convince the Court that I was a serious National Security threat, which resulted in me being held in solitary confinement for nearly a year, based on ridiculous claim that I could launch a nuclear weapon by whistling into a phone. Also, they would not have been able to claim the damages were the total R&D costs associated with the development of source code, which I merely looked at, without distributing it. I think my sentencing and treatment in the justice system would have been much different, as they would not have been able to exaggerate the harm like the Government did in my case.

Computer Setup?
by Anonymous

What is your computer setup? I mean hardware, OS, software you use to work.

KM: You send me yours along with the IP address, and I'll tell you mine. Good try at information reconnaissance.

by Anonymous

Has the gal from the Social Security Administration claimed her kiss? if so, was she hot?

KM: No, I don't know if she was hot and she has yet to contact me.

Ham radio license?
by vlm

Are you going to fight to get back your ham radio license or is that all water under the bridge now?

KM: I did fight the FCC and still have my ham radio license. The FCC allowed me to retain my license because they deemed me fully rehabilitated after a long administrative court proceeding.

"Justice ... "
by capnkr

Having experienced "justice" of a rather harsh sort (IMO, & possibly yours, too :) ) given that what you did was relatively inconsequential despite the claims otherwise, do you now do any work towards helping keep the sort of experience you had from happening again to other hackers (note: *not* 'crackers')?

KM: I have, and I do. I don't want to see someone's curiosity or desire to learn how to break into systems land him or her into prison. I remember supporting Dmitry Sklyarov when he was arrested at Defcon for exposing a bug in Adobe's e-books. I remember joining a group of people that were protesting his arrest for alleged DMCA violations in Santa Monica, California a while back.

In the end...
by NabisOne

Was it worth it? Is there an upside to your experiences the last ten years?

KM: I have no regrets in regards to my hacking experiences. I have always had a passion for learning, solving difficult challenges, and satisfying my own curiosity.

However, I do regret the effects that my activities had on my family and the companies that were damaged by my actions. I can't undo the past, and can just move forward to try and help others keep themselves safe from those trying to do them harm.

My recent experiences of the last 10 years have been nothing short of a miracle. One word has changed that for me: authorization! I now get authorization from my clients to test their security controls.
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Kevin Mitnick Answers

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