Book by celebrated hacker describes tricks of the trade

Monday, July 1, 2002

NEW YORK -- Barred by the terms of his probation from messing with computers, ex-convict hacker Kevin Mitnick has turned to writing about them, baring the tricks of his former trade in a forthcoming book.

An advance copy of the book, "The Art of Deception," describes more than a dozen scenarios where tricksters dupe computer network administrators into divulging passwords, encryption keys and other coveted security details.

But it's all fiction. Or so says Mitnick.

Those seeking Mitnick's version of his lawless escapades will have to wait. Personal details are carefully expunged from the book, which uses fictitious names of hackers, victims and companies.

"It's not the Kevin Mitnick story," said Mitnick, 38, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., who served five years in federal prison for stealing software and altering data at Motorola, Novell, Nokia, Sun Microsystems and the University of Southern California. He was released in January 2000 and is currently on three years' probation.

"This book isn't about my cases, it's creating fiction stories with the same techniques I've used and others have used," he said.

Aimed at professionals

Mitnick says his message is aimed at computer security professionals, to help them stop people like him. But he agreed his tricks would also make good fodder for the dishonest.

"The information can be used for good or bad," he said.

The book's contents, to be released in October, are probably too tame to interest a malicious hacker, said Bruce Schneier of Counterpane Internet Security in Cupertino, Calif.

"The bad guys don't need to read this book," Schneier said. "But the good guys need to know what the criminals are doing."

Mitnick is best known for leading the FBI on a three-year manhunt that ended in 1995 when agents collared him in an apartment in Raleigh, N.C. with the help of a top academic security expert.

During the chase, the bespectacled outlaw continued to break into computer networks. He was considered a cult hero among hackers and a slippery felon by the federal judge who finally sentenced him.

In his hacking heyday, Mitnick was described as an overweight, pimpled young man obsessed with fast food.

He has since undergone an image makeover. He's slimmed down, sports a stylish haircut and has appeared on television, in the courtroom as an expert witness and even before Congress.

Mitnick's life still revolves around weekly visits to Larry Hawley, his federal probation officer. Hawley is said to be keen to read his client's forthcoming book.

"He will be going over it in some detail," said a probation official in Los Angeles on condition of anonymity.

Mitnick swears he'll never hack again -- but not because prison taught him anything. "I grew out of my hacking. Now I'm 38. There are no 38-year-old hackers out there."

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