Kevin Mitnick: America’s most wanted hacker reflects on Raleigh arrest, new life in cyber security

Why Kevin Mitnick, the World's Most Notorious Hacker, Is Still ...

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Hacker once on FBI’s Most Wanted list now gets paid for his skills

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By Cullen Browder, WRAL anchor/reporter

Raleigh, N.C. — Twenty-three years ago, Kevin Mitnick was on the run.

“I was the catch me if you can of cyberspace,” he said.

He broke into computer systems across the country, but says now that his crimes were not for money.

“Why I was a hacker was (for) the intellectual curiosity, the pursuit of knowledge, the seduction of adventure.” he said.

In a case that garnered national attention, Mitnick marked the start of the cyber crime known today. From teenage prankster to the FBI’s most wanted list, he spent five years in federal prison for his crimes.

Mitnick now works as a cyber security expert and is using his unique knowledge and hacking capabilities for good.

“I started hacking before there were laws against it,” Mitnick said. “What my goal was to be the best at getting around security. I wanted to be the Harry Houdini of hacking.”

With federal investigators closing in on him in Seattle, Mitnick needed a new identity and a new home. A spontaneous idea brought him to Raleigh.

“I loved the game Monopoly, and I like the greens,” he said. “But I like the greens, and of course, North Carolina is the greens.”

He moved to to the Triangle in 1995 with a new alias and began looking for a job.

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Raw Video: Hacker talks Raleigh kindness

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“Even though I was a fugitive, I was the type of fugitive that wasn’t committing crimes to make money,” he said. “I’d actually go get real jobs and live a normal life and do my hacking hobby at night.”

Mitnick obtained a North Carolina’s driver’s license, taking the test in a cab he paid $100 to rent. He leased an apartment in what was then the Player’s Club off Duraleigh Road in Raleigh. But his Houdini magic ran out in the Tarheel State.

“I go into my apartment, and all of a sudden, I just get this bad gut feeling that something bad’s going to happen,” Mitnick said.

He went to the balcony to look outside. Convinced he was being paranoid, Mitnick went back inside and fired up his computer.

He immediately heard a knock on the door from the FBI.

“These guys start searching my apartment, and I go ‘What are you guys doing? Do you have a search warrant?’ And the guy says, ‘If you’re Kevin Mitnick, we do,” Mitnick said.

He continued to deny his identity, but the law enforcement officers were not swayed by his denials. Eventually, they made their way inside his residence.

“There was a briefcase on the table, and it had a lot of my false identity documents in there,” Mitnick said. “I knew if I they opened that briefcase up I was in big trouble.”

“One of the agents started opening the briefcase, and I stood up and slammed the briefcase shut, and it locked. I said, ‘You’re not going through my stuff unless you have a warrant. Get out.’”

Even though Mitnick had changed his appearance, the lead agent was persistent, pulling out a “Most Wanted” poster.

The cat-and-mouse game continued for hours with Mitnick in full acting mode.

“They find a jacket, and they go in all the pockets of the ski jacket, and unbeknownst to me, there was a pay stub that I didn’t know about that was made out to Kevin Mitnick” he said.

Mitnick went to court and met his cyber rival face to face. Tsutomu Shimomura helped the FBI catch Mitnick in retaliation for compromising the fellow hacker’s system. Mitnick spent five years in federal prison, saying he learned some lessons along the way.

“I made some serious mistakes,” he said. “I caused a lot of companies and individuals hassle,” Mitnick said.

Twenty-three years after his arrest in Raleigh, Mitnick is still ranked the No. 1 hacker of all-time by Kapersky, an international cyber security group.

He now helps companies keep out hackers like him.

“I never in a million years predicted I would be doing what I do today, where I’m hacking into systems,” he said. “But I’m getting paid for it.”

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