Inside a hacker's brain

Hackers from the French Degenerescience association in a coffeehouse in Lille, northern France, on December 9, 2010.

Kevin Mitnick began hacking way back in the 1970s when, as a 12-year-old boy, he figured out a way to make fake punch cards that were good enough to fool the buses in Los Angeles. A little bit of hacking and he was able to ride everywhere for free. That ingenuity gave way over time to hacking into phone systems. Mitnick and his friends were able to re-route calls to directory assistance and would tell callers that the phone number they needed had a half in it and they would need to buy a new phone that supported halves.

Eventually, Mitnick was hacking into all sorts of corporate and governmental websites. And getting arrested along the way, at one point serving time in prison. He's now a security consultant. Businesses hire him to break into their networks, explain how he did it, and suggest fixes to make those sites more secure. Mitnick reports that his business has a 100 percent success rate, able to hack into anything.

Mitnick says that part of the reason there are so many attacks lately that there's a lot of low hanging fruit. Companies don't take security all that seriously, and if hackers have any kind of skills, they can break in without too much difficulty. He says those attacks can be motivated by sheer pranksterism, just getting in for the fun of it. Or they can be motivated by "hacktivism," which is when the hacker is driven by a cause, to right a wrong, to punish someone or some company for doing something bad.

The rush of pulling off a successful hack, says Mitnick, is kind of similar to completing a really difficult level of a video game or completing any kind of especially tricky puzzle.

Mitnick says that the Internet can give a hacking group like LulzSec a sense of anonymity, "so they feel confident they're not going to be identified. Of course, That confidence is usually their undoing."

Also in this show, a Danish band is asking people to go to a website and cry. And people are doing it. O Internet, what hast thou wrought?

About the author

John Moe is the host of Marketplace Tech Report, where he provides an insightful overview of the latest tech news.

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