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Originally, I had planned on researching George Lucas as my creative genius. I am in love with the Star Wars saga, but I really could not get interested in George Lucas. Then, late one night, I saw a movie called Takedown. It was based on a true story that dealt with the pursuit and capture of Kevin Mitnick, one of the most infamous computer hackers of all time. I was instantly amazed. As soon as the movie was over, I began scouring the internet looking for information concerning him. I am quite interested in computers, and Mitnick’s mastery of them drew me towards him. I knew then that he was who I wanted to research.
His creativity encompasses a wide range of skills. Obviously, his mastery of computer and telephone systems deals with the Mathematical/Logical domain. Also, he is talented at acquiring information from people, which is an intrapersonal skill. Plus, he is strongly self-motivated and that deals with the interpersonal domain. This combination of skills elevated him to be one of the best hackers the world has ever seen.
I have a great deal of respect for Kevin Mitnick because he is able to use a computer creatively to acquire whatever he wants to know. In a way, I wish I could be like him. A computer is such a valuable asset, but many times it is not close to being used to its full potential. Kevin Mitnick realized this, and put his computer to maximum usage. However, it is unfortunate that what he did was against the law. Due to this, I really cannot consider him a role model. I have no desire to risk going to jail over a computer-related crime. Even so, there is still a great amount of potential within Mitnick. Since he knows so much about breaking into computers, he could use that knowledge when he gets out of jail to design security systems that would be almost impenetrable. He knows all the tricks of the trade on how to tap into someone’s system. It is this insight that could enable him to design a nearly full-proof security system. Only time will tell what happens with Mitnick in the future.
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Life and Times of Kevin Mitnick:
Kevin David Mitnick was born in 1964. At the age of three, his parents divorced. His father left and was never an influence in Kevin’s life. He lived with his mother, Shelly Jaffee, while he was growing up. This lack of a father figure is typical in most people who are computer hackers. His mother worked at as a waitress while Mitnick was growing up. They lived in the Los Angeles suburb of Sepulveda. It was in the late 70’s that Mitnick reached his adolescence. At this time, the personal computing industry was exploding beyond its simple hobbyist roots. Mitnick was attending Monroe High School when he first discovered his love for computers. He soon got into trouble for tapping into the Los Angeles School District’s computer network. Shortly thereafter, Mitnick fell into a group of underground “phone phreaks” who regularly met in a dilapidated pizza parlor in Hollywood. They were known as the Roscoe Gang and were even included in a cover story for the LA Weekly. They spent most of their time illegally mastering the inner workings of the telephone switching system. It was not long before Mitnick’s mastering of computer networks and telephone systems got him into a great deal of trouble. His life would never be the same again.
The Infamy Starts
As a teenager, Mitnick hooked his computer up to a modem and tapped into a North American Air Defense Command computer. This foreshadowed the movie “War Games,” in 1983. Also, he gained control of three telephone company central offices in Manhattan and all the phone switching centers located in California, and was able to listen in on calls. Plus, he secretly read the electronic mail of computer security experts working for MCI Communications and Digital Equipment. This gave him valuable insight on how the companies’ computers and phone equipment were protected. Later on, these companies claimed Mitnick caused them $4 million in damages and stole $1 million worth of software. These illegal activities climaxed when, at the age of 17, Mitnick successfully cracked Pacific Bell’s computer system. Using a computer hooked up to a pay phone in San Fernando Valley, he was able to change telephone bills, access other computers, and siphon out $200,000 in information and services. Unfortunately, Susan Thunder, one of the leaders of the Roscoe Gang, squealed to officials about Mitnick’s PacBell hack, and Mitnick was arrested. After the trial, Mitnick, who was still a juvenile, was sentenced to get a ninety day diagnostic study by the juvenile justice system plus a year probation. Most people at this point would be deterred from further illegal activities, but this was not the case with Mitnick. He adopted “Condor” as his hacker ID, named after the Robert Redford movie Three Days of the Condor. The movie deals with a CIA researcher who uses his experiences as an Army signal corpsman to control the phone systems and avoid capture. This is strikingly similar to Mitnick later on his in life
A Life of Crime
The year following his PacBell hack, Mitnick became friends with a man named Lenny DiCicco. They entered the University of Southern California, and soon began hacking using the student computers on campus. Again, Mitnick got himself into trouble because of his computer activities. Using the university computers, he was able to gain illegal access to the ARPAnet. Campus police caught him red-handed in a campus terminal room breaking into a Pentagon computer using ARPAnet. For violating his probation, he was sentenced to six months at the California Youth Authority’s Karl Holton Training School, which was a juvenile prison in California. Showing his sense of humor, on his release, he obtained license plate the read “X HACKER” but that was far from the truth. He was still very much involved in the computer hacking scene. After accusations that he was involved in tampering with a TRW credit reference computer, he went underground for over a year and was not heard from.
In 1987, Mitnick resurfaced and appeared to try to get a grip on his life. He began seeing a woman. They enrolled in a computer class at a local vocational school. He worked at various computer programming jobs to make ends meet. However, his love for hacking soon drew him back into unlawful actions. He began using illegal telephone credit card numbers, which subsequently led police to the apartment he was sharing with his girlfriend in Thousand Oaks, California. He was found guilty for stealing software from the Santa Cruz Operation, a software company, in December of 1987, and sentenced to 36 months probation. Once again, he had been caught by the law only to get off with a slap on the wrist. This greatly increased his ego and his sense of invulnerability.
Shortly thereafter, in 1988, Mitnick was back at it again. He teamed up with his friend Lenny DiCicco again and they began electronically attacking Digital Equipment’s Palo Alto research laboratory. Mitnick had his eyes set on obtaining a version of Digital’s VMS minicomputer operating system, and was trying to access it via the company’s corporate computer network, Easynet. Every night, Mitnick and DiCicco would launch modem-based attacks from a small Calabasas, California company at which DiCicco was employed with a computer support job. Security experts working for Digital were immediately aware of the attacks, but Mitnick has mastered the telephone operating system. He manipulated the telephone network’s switching system to mislead authorities as to his whereabouts. Mitnick easily frustrated local police and the FBI. He routinely operated with two different computers - one to hack into Digital Equipment, and one to monitor his trackers to see if they were closing in on his location. On one occasion, a squad of law enforcement agents and telephone security officials believed to have pinpointed Mitnick’s hideout, only to discover he had misled them to an apartment in Malibu.
Even so, Mitnick’s plan was far from perfect. While he and DiCicco were trying to break into Digital, Mitnick was harassing DiCicco by calling his employer and saying DiCicco was in trouble concerning the Internal Revenue Service. Once DiCicco discovered Mitnick was behind this prank, he became frustrated and confessed of Mitnick’s activities to his boss. His boss immediately alerted the FBI and DEC, and soon Mitnick wound up in a federal court in Los Angeles. DEC claimed that Mitnick had stolen several million dollars worth of software and cost the company $200,000 in trying to keep him out of their computer systems. Once again, Mitnick was able to plead the charges down and pled guilty to one count of computer fraud and one count of possessing illegal long-distance access codes.
This marked the fifth time Mitnick had been apprehended for a computer-related crime. The case attracted national attention due to an unusual plea bargain. Mitnick agreed to serve one year in prison, and then attend a six month seminar to help him overcome his “computer addiction.” Mitnick’s lawyer convinced the judge there was a psychological parallel between Mitnick’s obsession for computers and a junkie’s craving for illegal substances.
Upon completing his jail sentence and counseling program, Mitnick moved to Las Vegas and took a position as a low-level computer programmer for a mailing list company. Then, in early 1992, Mitnick moved back to the San Fernando Valley after his brother died of a heroine overdose. Briefly he met up with his father and worked for him in construction. Then, through a friend of his father’s, he took a job at the Tel Tec Detective Agency. Almost immediately after he began, someone was suspected of illegally using a commercial database system on behalf of the company. Obviously, Mitnick was thought to be behind this. In September, Mitnick’s apartment was searched, as well as Susan Thunder’s, an original member of the Roscoe Gang with whom Mitnick had become reacquainted with. Two months after the raid, a federal judge issued a warrant to arrest Mitnick for violating his 1989 probation on two terms: illegally accessing a phone company computer and associating with one of the people whom he had been originally arrested in 1981. Some people close to him claimed he was set up by the detective firm, but there was no hard proof to this claim. However, when the FBI came to arrest Mitnick, he had vanished. The same time Mitnick disappeared, the California Department of Motor Vehicles issued a warrant for his arrest.
Using a valid law enforcement requester code, someone attempted to have driver’s license photographs of a police informer faxed to a studio near Los Angeles. The D.M.V. thought the request strange and looked into it. They discovered the fax number was really assigned to a Kinko’s copy shop which they staked out. However, the undercover agents didn’t see the suspect until he was going out the door of the shop. They began pursuit, and the person dropped the documents he had picked up and outran the agents. Later, it was determined that Kevin Mitnick’s fingerprints were all over the documents. Once again, Mitnick had evaded the law. He was able to outsmart and avoid the authorities for over one and a half years as they mounted a massive manhunt. However, the next time Mitnick resurfaced, it would be is downfall.
Over Christmas in 1994, Mitnick hacked into Tsutomu Shimomura’s computer system. At the time, Shimomura was a leading security expert on computer systems. His computer contained valuable information dealing with viruses and weaknesses in existing operating systems. However, Shimomura did not take this hack sitting down.
Before the break-in on Shimomura’s computer, Mitnick was rumored to be in Seattle working as a computer trouble-shooter. However, he was soon on the move. This did not deter Shimomura. In an electronic cross-country pursuit that lasted two months, Tsutomu had tracked him down to Raleigh, North Carolina. On February 15, 1995, the FBI stormed Mitnick’s apartment to find him on the computer searching for something.
Overall, Mitnick was charged in North Carolina for 23 counts of access device fraud. He pled guilty to one count and had the case consolidated to Los Angeles. Once in California, he was charged with an additional 25 counts of access device, wire, and computer fraud. On March 16, 1999, Mitnick pled guilty to five of these counts, and two additional counts from the Northern District of California. He was sentenced to serve 46 months of imprisonment and serve three years probation, in addition to eight months imprisonment for his North Carolina plea and 14 months for violating his probation.
A Free Man
On January 21, 2000, Mitnick, being eligible for early release, was released after serving 60 of his 68 month sentence. Currently, he has 14 months left on his probation. Once his probationary period is over, he will be released from the conditions of his supervised release that prohibit him from using a computer and from acting as a consultant or advisor in any computer-related subject.
Since his release, Mitnick has had many new and magazine articles published about him. He has participated in many interviews dealing with issues concerning information security. He had also been featured in many nationally broadcast television shows such as Court TV, Good Morning American, 60 Minutes, Headline News, Talkback Live, CNN’s Burden of Proof, and many others. In addition, he has written articles for Time Magazine, Newsweek, and 2600: The Hackers Quarterly. Presently, Kevin Mitnick is the host of Dark Side of the Internet, a radio program on KFI AM 640.
Relation to Gardner’s Model:
Gardner proposed a superstructure of three core elements needed to account for creative activity. These elements are the relationship between the child and the master, the relationship between the individual and the work, and the relationship between the individual and other persons. Applying these to Mitnick, it is easy to see why his creative genius strayed into the criminal world.
Much like Einstein, Mitnick viewed the world through the eyes of a child. Even when he had mastered his domain, he still loved to play pranks and yearned to learn more and push his limits. Also, he really didn’t have anyone close to him that he could confide in and help him with his ideas. In addition, he was completely obsessed with his work. He was always scheming and planning his next course of action. The combination of his child-like mindset and his lack of guidance makes it seem plausible that he could become involved in illegal activities. He set no limitations for himself, and had no one to hold him back. Plus, he was so driven with his work that he would take any and all risks to accomplish his goals. This is what made him possibly the best computer hacker the world has ever seen.
Mastering His Domain
Kevin Mitnick took that Logical/Mathematical field in a direction no one had firmly set foot in. At the onset of the “digital revolution” in the late 70’s, Mitnick used personal computers and the telephone system as a way to enlighten himself to information that was not readily available to the general public. He used this information to his personal gain. Primarily, it enabled him to outwit authorities as they pursued him. But also, he brought computer hacking into the mainstream of America. His life story is plastered all over the news and internet. He stands as a role model for current computer hackers and the fame which they can achieve. Kevin Mitnick did to the world of computer hacking what Sigmund Freud did to psychiatry.
Kevin Mitnick grew up and spent most of his adult life in or around Los Angeles, California. California has always been a diverse cultural setting in which many new ideas spring forth and grow. This can especially be said about the computer industry. All major computer companies sprang up around the West Coast, and can now be seen centered in Silicon Valley. It is hardly coincidental that the world’s most infamous computer hacker was immersed in this atmosphere.
10 Year Creativity Rule
While Mitnick has had many great personal accomplishments throughout his career, his two most notable breakthroughs were the Pacific Bell and Tsutomu Shimomura hacks. The Pacific Bell hack occurred in 1981 and the Shimomura incident took place in 1994. Obviously, it can be seen these events were not 13 years apart. However, Mitnick presents an interesting perspective when looking at a creative genius. Gardner’s model does not properly support the idea of a “criminally creative genius.” Mitnick was not a free man during the whole 13 year period. For a portion of that time, he was imprisoned and under probation. Legally, he was deterred from pursuing his ideas. Taking this into account, it can be postulated the his major accomplishments could have occurred roughly within 10 years of each other if other factors had not prevented him.
When discussing how Gardner’s model applies to Mitnick, nothing is more obvious than the Faustian Bargain struck by Mitnick. More than any other creative genius, Mitnick sacrificed much for the gift he possessed. Because what he believed in and excelled at was illegal, he had to give up his freedom and hope for living a normal, successful life. He traded fame for infamy. Also, his drive made it nearly impossible to establish healthy relationships with anyone. Not many people could grasp what Mitnick understood, so it was hard for him to communicate with anyone. Plus, he was constantly on the run from authorities. He was unable to set up a permanent residence in which to surround himself with a familiar atmosphere and close friends. Whether or not you agree with Mitnick’s practices, he should be respected for pursuing his dreams and not letting anything stop him from achieving his goals.
Kevin Mitnick is not your traditional creative genius. His unorthodox approach to applying his creative gift is unlike any of the methods employed by the creators Gardner reviewed in his book. This only helps to strengthen the argument Gardner makes about a pattern between creative geniuses. Gardner could never have perceived using his model to evaluate a criminal mastermind, yet it still was able to breakdown Mitnick’s life and find bonds shared between him and all other creative geniuses Gardner researched.
Shimomura, Tsutomu. Markoff, John. (1995). Takedown. New York: Hyperion.