Cyber security seems to make headlines every week these days. Whether it’s a data breach, a new strain of ransomware, or a company that got duped out of millions of dollars in a CEO email scam, cybercrime keeps bombarding our newsfeeds. But hackers knew how to make headlines long before this.
This week marks 20 years since hacker Kevin Mitnick—more famously known as Condor at the time—was charged with 25 felony counts, 14 of which were for wire fraud containing millions of dollars’ worth of software. This Tech Time Warp looks back at one of the world’s most famous hackers and where he is now.
A brief history of the hacker Condor
Generally we associate social engineering with phishing attacks, but it can also be a tactic used in face-to-face interactions. In this case, 12-year-old Kevin Mitnick got his start using social engineering to dodge bus fares. How did he do it? Simply by asking the bus driver where he could get a special hole-punch— like the one that the driver used for transfer passes — for a ‘school project’. He bought the punch and found some unused transfers, which allowed him to easily ride the bus for free. You could say it was the beginning of his slippery slope onto the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
Eventually, Kevin graduated to using social engineering tactics to get access to data bases, telephone networks, and computer systems. Although he had access to high security information, he never pirated code, stole a living person’s identity, or spent a dime of the money—instead he says he did it for pure fun.
He hacked numerous large companies including IBM, Motorola, and even the Pentagon. Eventually the FBI caught on, put him on the Most Wanted List, and spent the next three years tracking him down! One of the aliases he used while he was on the run was Eric Weiss, Harry Houdini’s birth name. After the FBI caught up with him, he was indicted and eventually sentenced to five years in prison.
What Condor is up to now
Kevin is now putting his hacking to skills to good use as a computer security expert, helping businesses beef up their security and finding holes in their systems before hackers exploit them. In 2000, a movie titled Takedown came out based on his life story. His fame has helped him grow his security business (Mitnicksecurity.com) and publish numerous security books like Ghost in the Wires and The Art of Deception, among others. He remains busy in the security sector by not only speaking at security conferences, but also offering security services like penetration testing, vulnerability assessments, and security awareness testing.
While he may have been on the FBI’s Most Wanted List 20 years ago, it is safe to say that he has turned over a new leaf in the security field. Instead of hiding in the shadows with hackers, he is standing up to make networks safer.