How to Become the Most Wanted Hacker in the World

Kevin Mitnick was one of the most notorious hackers of all time. But when he hacked Japanese computer security expert "the Samurai," he set into motion the events that would eventually lead to his capture. Ghost in the Wires is a portal into the highest levels of online espionage.

With my new identity credentials in order, it was time to get clear of Las Vegas before my luck ran out. The 1994 Christmas/New Year's holiday time was just ahead, and I couldn't resist the idea of a return visit to Denver, a city I had grown so fond of. Packing up, I took along an old ski jacket of mine, thinking I might be able to get in a little more time on the slopes over the holidays.

But once I arrived in Denver and settled into an attractive, mediumpriced hotel, two people I had never met—that arrogant Japanese-​American security expert whose server I had hacked into a year earlier, the other an extraordinarily skilled computer hacker in Israel—would become actors in a drama that would change the entire rest of my life.

I had come across an Israeli who went by his initials, "JSZ"; we met over Internet Relay Chat, an online service for finding and chatting with strangers who shared similar interests. In our case, the interest was hacking. Eventually he told me that he had hacked most if not all of the major software manufacturers that developed operating systems- Sun, Silicon Graphics, IBM, SCO, and so on. He had copied source code from their internal development systems and planted backdoors to get back in anytime he wanted. That was quite a feat - very impressive. We started sharing our hacking conquests with each other and information on new exploits, backdooring systems, cell phone cloning, acquiring source code, and compromising the systems of vulnerability researchers.

I shared with JSZ the details of my hack into Mark Lottor's server and his interesting connection with Tsutomu Shimomura, using his nickname. I explained how I'd hacked into UCSD and sniffed the network until someone named "ariel" connected to Shimomura's server, after which I was finally able to get in. "Shimmy somehow realized that one of the people who had access to his computer had been hacked, and he booted me off after several days," I said.

I told JSZ that Shimmy might have the OKI source code or the details of his and Lottor's reverse engineering efforts, not to mention any new security bugs he might have discovered.

On Christmas Day 1994, walking out of a movie at the Tivoli Center in downtown Denver, I powered up my cloned cell phone and called JSZ to jokingly wish him a Jewish Merry Christmas. "Glad you called," he said. In a cool, collected voice, he told me, "I have a Christmas present for you. My friend, I got into ariel tonight." And he gave me the port number where he'd set up the backdoor. "Once you connect, there is no prompt. You just type ‘.shimmy.' and you get a root shell."

"No fucking way!"

I fired up a network talk program that would make a direct connection to JSZ's computer in Israel so we could communicate in one window as we hacked Shimmy in another. I connected to Shimmy's computer using the backdoor that JSZ had set up. Bingo! - I was in with root privileges.

***

I had never met Shimmy, never interacted with him in any way except for the recent hacks into his system. So why would the two of them be so interested in what I was doing?

I was right about one thing: Shimmy very quickly learned of our break‑in. Because JSZ and I were both so focused on getting a copy of his files, we didn't notice that he was running "tcpdump" - a network monitoring tool to capture all network traffic. We also didn't notice that a program called "cron" was periodically emailing his system logs to Andrew Gross, Shimmy's assistant. Gross realized the logs were getting smaller and tipped off Shimmy that something suspicious was going on. As soon as Shimmy looked through the logs, he realized he had been hacked.

I had enjoyed my time back in Denver for the holidays, especially because we were able to get into Shimmy's system. But time was up: I needed to put that grand city behind me and push off for my next destination. I was still elated about the success of the Shimmy hack. But I would live to regret it. Those few hours would eventually lead to my undoing. I had unleashed a hacker vigilante who would stop at nothing to get even with me.

Excerpted from the book GHOST IN THE WIRES by Kevin Mitnick with William L. Simon. Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Mitnick. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.


How to Become the Most Wanted Hacker in the World Kevin Mitnick was for a time the world's most notorious and wanted hacker.

Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker is available through Amazon.

Image from Ivan Demyanov/Shutterstock.