Kevin Mitnick may have been the greatest computer hacker the
world has ever known. At least, the FBI treated him that way. In the
1980s, Mitnick allegedly broke into computer systems belonging to
Pacific Bell, Digital Equipment, and the North American Air Defense
Command. In the 1990s, Mitnick became the subject of a nationwide
manhunt by the FBI. The New York Times ran a front-page story about
his alleged attempts to steal cellular telephone software on July 4,
1994. He was finally apprehended by computer expert Tsutomu
Shimomura on Feb. 15, 1995.
Mitnick was held in jail for four years without facing trial
because his attorney never had a chance to review the government's
evidence against him. It was repeatedly withheld on the grounds that
releasing it would compromise national security.
Meanwhile, three books were published on Mitnick's capture -
including one by Shimomura and John Markoff, The New York Times
reporter who many say stepped over ethical lines and participated in
the investigation. Disney and Miramax produced a movie on the caper.
It premiered in France but was shut down by a combination of
protests and a lawsuit.
In the meantime, Mitnick's case became a cause celebre among many
in the shadowy world of the computer underground. When The New York
Times website was hacked in September 1998, the hacker's message was
that Mitnick had been unfairly targeted. Dozens of websites devote
themselves to the treatment that Mitnick has received. Many others
debunk the government's assertion that he was personally responsible
for more than $80 million in corporate losses.
This backstory is critically important for understanding Kevin
Mitnick's first book, "The Art of Deception," in which the reformed
hacker- turned-security-consultant explains in painstaking detail
how the reliance on modern communications technology has made US
businesses more vulnerable to 19th-century style cons and swindles.
His book contains roughly two dozen case studies of "social
engineering" in which a hacker successfully identifies a piece of
information, gets it, and then vanishes.
One such story describes how a man named Rick Daggot showed up
one day at a small startup robotics company for a meeting with the
company's founder and vice president. Daggot was friendly and well-
dressed and claimed to be joining the company's team. There was just
one problem: The founder wasn't in town; Daggot had inadvertently
come on the wrong day.
Trying to make the most of a bad situation, Daggot offered to
take the company's receptionist and a few engineers out for lunch.
Over drinks they talked about - what else - the company's top-
secret project. A few days later, Daggot called back, saying that he
was in touch with the founder, and that copies of several key
documents should be sent to the founder's new e-mail account, the
only one he could get working while he was traveling. …