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Hijacking Lines: Mitnick At Work

The Fifteen Greatest Hacking Exploits

Like his predecessors, Kevin Mitnick also started hacking by modifying telephone lines in his neighborhood. In 1981, 17-year-old Kevin and a friend hacked a Computer System for Mainframe Operations (COSMOS) exchange belonging to Pacific Bell in Los Angeles. Once inside the system, he diverted the lines and intercepted all calls going through the exchange.

Subscribers quickly started to complain about what they thought were errors or practical jokes being played by operators. Kevin Mitnick would, of course, answer these calls himself, sometimes even using tasteless jokes.

Mitnick Sows Panic

But Mitnick did not stop there: he continued to latch onto Pacific Bell and its COSMOS system. He was able to enter the system's database, stealing the data of several subscribers. He easily gained access to billing statements, passwords, gateway combinations and even a system manual. He also profited from this access to divert lines for his personal use.

It was not until later that a Pacific Bell technician discovered abnormalities in the COSMOS system. An investigation was launched, quickly leading to the phone booth Kevin Mitnick used to make his calls and access the network; at that point, it was just a matter of waiting for him to appear and catch him in the act. Accused of data degradation and theft, Mitnick benefited from the judges' clemency, and was sentenced to three months in a reformatory and one year of probation.

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