Kevin Mitnick, the "Billy the Kid" of computer hacking, pleaded guilty yesterday to illegally using stolen mobile phone numbers and violating probation when he broke into Digital Equipment's computers eight years ago.
Mitnick, 32, made an agreement with federal prosecutors in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he was arrested in February, 1995, after three years on the lam. Mitnick was charged with 23 counts of computer fraud. He pleaded guilty to one charge and admitted using 15 telephone numbers to dial into computer databases. If yesterday's plea is accepted, the court will dismiss the remaining 22 counts.
Mitnick will be sentenced on July 15 in his home state of California by U.S. District Judge Mariana Pfaelzer. He faces up to 20 years in prison, plus an additional two to three years for violating his probation. Mitnick originally served one year in prison in 1988 for the Digital break-in and was released on the probation on the condition that he get treatment for his addiction to computers. But he refused to finish his treatment and began dodging authorities.
Mitnick's obsession with hacking began at age 17 when he began experimenting with the phone system in Southern California. His career ended when San Diego computer security expert, Tsutomu Shimomura, tracked the fugitive down in February after Mitnick electronically broke into Shimomura's own home computer.
In a series of reports on his exploits, New York Times reporter John Markoff made Mitnick possibly the most well-known hacker in the world. His fame, or infamy, grew even more since his arrest in February after Shimomura and Markoff co-wrote Takedown and Jonathan Littman, a San Francisco Bay Area writer, related his ongoing series of conversations with Mitnick in The Fugitive Game--On Line with Kevin Mitnick.
While most in the computer industry condemn Mitnick's hacking, many participants of online chat rooms and newsgroups have questioned whether his exploits warrant 20 years in prison.
Hacker under house arrest--with family