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Computer Whiz Admits Criminal Mischief

Times Staff Writer

Kevin Mitnick, a young computer wizard who prosecutors said was as dangerous with a keyboard as a bank robber with a gun, pleaded guilty Wednesday to two criminal counts stemming from electronic skulduggery. He faces a year in prison.

Mitnick, 25, pleaded guilty to one count of computer fraud and one count of possessing unauthorized long-distance telephone codes. Under a plea agreement with the government, must also submit to three years’ supervision by probation officers after his release from prison.

In a brief hearing before U.S. District Judge Mariana Pfaelzer, Mitnick admitted penetrating a Digital Equipment Corp. computer in Massachusetts, secretly obtaining a copy of a sophisticated computer security program which the company had spent $1 million to develop.

The program, said Mitnick’s attorney, Alan Rubin, was designed to alert companies when their computers had been penetrated by hackers like Mitnick. Mitnick never attempted to sell or distribute the program, he said.

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Mitnick also admitted possessing 16 unauthorized MCI long-distance codes that enabled him to make long-distance telephone calls without charge. Assistant U.S. Atty. James Asperger said Mitnick used the codes to make long-distance telephone connections to computers.

Called but Didn’t Pay

“I used the MCI codes to basically make phone calls without paying for them,” Mitnick told the judge.

Mitnick, who had also faced charges of penetrating the Leeds University computer in England, has been characterized by the government as such a danger to the community that he has been held without bail--an unprecedented order for a computer hacker--since his arrest in December.

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He has been prevented from dialing any telephone calls, based on prosecutors’ fears that he would use the telephone to wreak more computer havoc. Instead, the court ordered that jail guards dial the phone for him and hand him the receiver on a long extension cord. The first three phone numbers Mitnick asked for authorization to dial were those of his lawyer, wife and mother.

At the hearing Wednesday, the man prosecutors have called a dangerous computer criminal stood quietly next to his attorney and politely responded to the judge’s questions, occasionally pushing his glasses up when they slipped down his nose.

Rubin said Mitnick was never motivated by money.

“There’s no intent to damage computers and there’s no secrets being taken, no attempt to sell anything to the Russians,” he said. Instead, Rubin said, hacking for Mitnick was “an intellectual exercise . . . (to) see if he could get in. It’s Mt. Everest--because it’s there.”

Prosecutors said they agreed to a 12-month sentence because the amount of financial damage was relatively low. Digital Equipment lost about $100,000 to $200,000 in computer “down time” investigating the security program theft, Asperger said.

As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to dismiss two additional counts charging Mitnick with illegally accessing the Leeds computer in England and a separate charge related to the Digital Equipment computer program.


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