At one-time I was the FBI’s most wanted cybercriminal, the sole individual responsible for digitally commandeering the systems of 40 major US corporations — something I did purely just for the challenge. But after spending five years in jail for hacking, I now consider myself a wanted man from a completely different perspective.
I now take great pride and pleasure in sharing my technical hacking expertise and social engineering skills as a cybersecurity consultant, and will reveal my toolkit guaranteed to ensure next level cybersecurity for businesses of any scale or size in Dubai this week.
I’ve hacked since I was a teenager, purely in the pursuit of knowledge and adventure. I’ve cracked the systems of the likes of Motorola, Nokia and Sun Microsystems. I often get asked what my favourite ever hacks have been. To this day, it remains one of my very first.
When I was a 16-year-old. I worked out how to take over the McDonald’s Drive-Thru windows from a distance. I’d hide across the street and when customers would come up and place their order at the window, rather than getting the guy inside with the headset, they’d get me. So when a customer drove up I’d go ahead and take their order and then say: “Hey you‘re our 100th customer, please drive forward; your order’s absolutely free!”
From simple teenage kicks, my hacking fast grew into much more serious activity. By the early 90s, I had already hacked dozens of household names and leading global firms. Before I knew it, I had the FBI on my trail after working my way up to become one of the most wanted people in America.
When I was wanted by the government, it was a fun adventure. It was kind of the first time I could travel anywhere in the world. I could adopt a new identity and get new jobs.
Despite my attempts to stay off the FBI’s radar, eventually the net started closing in. Working as a private detective in Los Angeles, I was doing as much incognito tracking of others as the US Government now was of me.
However, once a hacker, always a hacker. After sneakily managing to get a hold of the mobile phone numbers of the agents on my trail, I turned to a programme I’d created before becoming a fugitive that operated by using both a radio scanner and a device known as a DDI hooked-up to his computer. Overnight, I’d turned the tables on the FBI … so much so that I was now even prepared to prank them, too.
Once I had their numbers, I programmed them into my computer. This meant that if either of those phones came within a two-mile radius of the cell site I was monitoring, it would send me a warning alert.
So one day, I walk into my office and hear this weird beeping sound. I was walking down the hallways trying to figure out what it was until I realised it was coming from the warning system! It had been tripped about two-and-a-half hours earlier at 6am, when I had been sleeping.
I figured they were there likely to serve a search warrant. I didn’t believe that they had a search warrant yet because they would have raided me that day, so I assumed they must have been getting one. That evening I went to my apartment and took everything of interest out and stored it at a couple of friends’ places.
The next morning around 6am, five to seven federal agents stormed into my apartment and present me with a search warrant to search for anything computer related. To their dismay they didn’t find one thing, as it was all removed the night prior. When one of the agents eventually looked into the refrigerator and saw the box labelled ‘FBI donuts’ — well, they were pretty angry!
Hauled through the courts, I was eventually placed behind bars, where I spent five-years locked-up — eight months of which was in solitary confinement.
Today, at 55-years-old, I’m a best-selling author and speaker on cybersecurity and social engineering. I run my own consulting firm and have managed to negotiate my status from being the FBI’s most wanted to the man Fortune 500 companies often battle to get hold of.
— Kevin Mitnick was a speaker at GISEC, the regional cyber security event at Dubai World Trade Centre.