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Computer Hacker Faces New Federal Charges

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal grand jury indicted infamous computer hacker Kevin Mitnick on Thursday, accusing him of stealing millions of dollars in software in an elaborate hacking spree during the more than two years that he was a fugitive before his capture last year in North Carolina.

The 25-count indictment alleges that the 33-year-old computer wizard broke into the systems of major software companies, then transferred stolen material to computers at USC via the Internet.

The indictments were based on the work of an unusual task force of high-tech sleuths, which included representatives of NASA and the Department of Justice and illustrates a commitment by federal authorities to crack down on a growing breed of computer criminals, U.S. Atty. Nora Manella said.

“Computer and Internet crime represents a major threat, with sophisticated criminals able to wreak havoc around the world using a lone computer and a modem as their weapons of choice,” Manella said. “This indictment is a major step forward in the federal effort to track down and prosecute computer hackers.”

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Mitnick has been in custody since February 1995 and is now in a federal jail in Los Angeles, awaiting sentencing on a cellular phone fraud charge.

Mitnick evaded authorities in narrow escapes in Los Angeles and Seattle over a 2 1/2-year period, becoming an anti-authority hero in the world of renegade hackers.

To catch the man who used the code name “Condor,” the government brought in computer securities expert Tsutomu Shimomura of the San Diego Supercomputer Center, who helped track Mitnick to an apartment in Raleigh, N.C.

Mitnick pleaded guilty in April to one federal count of cellular phone fraud and admitted to violating terms of his probation on an earlier computer fraud conviction. In return for his plea, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles agreed to drop 22 other fraud charges--brought in an indictment handed down against Mitnick in Raleigh--but warned at the time that charges on “far more serious” offenses could follow.

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Thursday’s indictment also charges Lewis De Payne, a resident of Northern California, with helping Mitnick carry out the scheme. De Payne, 36, has arranged through his attorney to surrender today to federal authorities in Los Angeles.

“Mr. De Payne feels wronged . . . [he] has expressed a feeling that the government’s agenda is something other than what it’s supposed to be and that he’s done nothing to be ashamed of,” said Richard Sherman, De Payne’s attorney.

An attorney for Mitnick could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The indictment charges Mitnick with 14 counts of wire fraud for his alleged systematic theft of proprietary software from manufacturers including Motorola, Nokia Mobile Phones, Fujitsu, Novell and NEC. Mitnick is also charged with damaging computers at USC, stealing and compiling numerous electronic files containing user names and corresponding passwords, and attacking computer systems belonging to Internet service providers.

According to the indictment, Mitnick and De Payne gained user accounts and passwords to some of the companies by pretending to be employees. In some instances, Mitnick would pose as an employee working on a special project to deceive computer personnel into creating a new user account on the company’s computer, the indictment alleged.

Once he gained access, Mitnick allegedly ran unauthorized “hacking” programs on computers belonging to some of the companies, Internet service providers and educational institutions. The programs enabled Mitnick to obtain “superuser” status, allowing him to copy, misappropriate and transfer computer software, e-mail, passwords and personnel information, the indictment alleged.

The indictment did not explain why he used USC computers as a storage point, and did not specify the value of the stolen programs beyond “millions of dollars.” It does not accuse him of selling the material.


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