TUCoPS :: Cyber Law :: sentest.txt

Kevin Mitnick's written testimony before a Senate Committee on government computer security, March 2 2000



Honorable Chairperson Thompson, Distinguished Senators, and Members of
the Committee:

My name is Kevin Mitnick. I appear before you today to discuss your
efforts to create legislation that will ensure the future security and
reliability of information systems owned and operated by, or on behalf
of, the federal government.

I am primarily self-taught. My hobby as an adolescent consisted of
studying methods, tactics, and strategies used to circumvent computer
security, and to learn more about how computer systems and
telecommunication systems work.

In 1985 I graduated cum laude in Computer Systems and Programming from a
technical college in Los Angeles, California, and went on to
successfully complete a post-graduate project in designing enhanced
security applications that ran on top of a computer's operating system.
That post-graduate project may have been one of the earliest examples of
"hire the hacker:" the school's administrators realized I was hacking
into their computers in ways that they couldn't prevent, and so they
asked me to design security enhancements that would stop others'
unauthorized access.

I have 20 years experience circumventing information security measures,
and can report that I have successfully compromised all systems that I
targeted for unauthorized access save one. I have two years experience
as a private investigator, and my responsibilities included locating
people and their assets using social engineering techniques.

My experience and success at accessing and obtaining information from
computer systems first drew national attention when I obtained user
manuals for the COSMOS computer systems (Computer Systems for Mainframe
Operations) used by Pacific Bell.

Ten years later the novel "Cyberpunk" was published in 1991, which
purported to be a "true" accounting of my actions that resulted in my
arrest on federal charges in 1988. One of the authors of that novel went
on to write similarly fictionalized "reports" about me for the New York
Times, including a cover story that appeared July 4, 1994. That largely
fictitious story labeled me, without reason, justification, or proof, as
the "world's most wanted cybercriminal." Subsequent media reports
distorted that claim into the false claim that I was the first hacker on
the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list. That false exaggeration was most
recently repeated during my appearance on CNN's Burden of Proof program
on February 10, 2000. Michael White of the Associated Press researched
this issue with the FBI, and FBI representatives denied ever including
me on their "Ten Most Wanted" list.

I have gained unauthorized access to computer systems at some of the
largest corporations on the planet, and have successfully penetrated
some of the most resilient computer systems ever developed. I have used
both technical and non-technical means to obtain the source code to
various operating systems and telecommunications devices to study their
vulnerabilities and their inner workings.

After my arrest in 1995, I spent years as a pretrial detainee without
benefit of bail, a bail hearing, and without the ability to see the
evidence against me, combined circumstances which are unprecedented in
U.S. history according to the research of my defense team. In March of
1999 I pled guilty to wire fraud and computer fraud. I was sentenced to
68 months in federal prison with 3 years supervised release.

The supervised release restrictions imposed on me are the most
restrictive conditions ever imposed on an individual in U.S. federal
court, again according to the research of my defense team. The
conditions of supervised release include, but are not limited to, a
complete prohibition on the possession or use, for any purpose, of the
following: cell phones, computers, any computer software programs,
computer peripherals or support equipment, personal information
assistants, modems, anything capable of accessing computer networks, and
any other electronic equipment presently available or new technology
that becomes available that can be converted to, or has as its function,
the ability to act as a computer system or to access a computer system,
computer network, or telecommunications network.

In addition to these extraordinary conditions, I am prohibited from
acting as a consultant or advisor to individuals or groups engaged in
any computer-related activity. I am also prohibited from accessing
computers, computer networks, or other forms of wireless communications
myself or through third parties.

I was released from federal prison on January 21, 2000, just 6 weeks
ago. I served 59 months and 7 days, after earning 180 days of time off
for good behavior. I am permitted to own a land line telephone.

Computer Systems and Their Vulnerabilities

The goal of information security is to protect the integrity,
confidentiality, availability and access control to the information.
Secure information is protected against tampering, disclosure, and
sabotage. The practice of information security reduces the risk
associated with loss of trust in the integrity of the information.

Information security is comprised of four primary topics: physical
security, network security, computer systems security, and personnel
security. Each of these four topics deserves a complete book, if not
several books, to fully document them. My presentation today is intended
to provide a brief overview of these topics, and to present my
recommendations for the manner in which the Committee may create
effective legislation.

1. Physical Security

1.1 Uncontrolled physical access to computer systems and computer
networks dramatically increases the likelihood that the system can and
will suffer unauthorized access.

1.1.1 Hardware Security Computers may be locked in rooms or buildings,
with guards, security cameras, and cypher-controlled doors. The greatest
risk to information security in apparently secure hardware environments
is represented by employees, or impostors, who appear to possess
authorization to the secured space.

1.1.2 Data Security Many government agencies require formal backup
procedures to ensure against data loss. Equally stringent requirements
must be in place to ensure the integrity and security of those backup
files. Intruders who cannot gain access to secure data but who obtain
unauthorized access to data backups successfully compromise any security
measures that may be in place, and with much less risk of detection.

2. Network Security

2.1 Stand-alone computers are less vulnerable than computers that are
connected to any network of any kind. Computers connected to networks
typically offer a higher incidence of misconfiguration, or
inappropriately enabled services, than computers that are not connected
to any network. The hierarchy of network "insecurity" is as follows: --
Stand-alone computer - least vulnerable -- Computer connected to a LAN,
or local area network - more vulnerable -- Computer and a LAN accessible
via dial-up - even more vulnerable -- Computer and LAN connected to
internet -- most vulnerable of all

2.1.1 Unencrypted Network Communications Unencrypted network
communications permit anyone with physical access to the network to use
software to monitor all information traveling over the network, even
though it?s intended for someone else. Once a network tap is installed,
intruders can monitor all network traffic, and install software that
enables them to capture, or "sniff," passwords from network

2.1.2 Dial-in Access Dial-in access increases vulnerabilities by opening
up an access point to anyone who can access ordinary telephone lines.
Off site access increases the risk of intruders gaining access to the
network by increasing the accessibility of the network and the remote

3. Computer Systems Security

3.1 Computer systems that are not connected to any network present the
most secure computing environment possible. However, even a brief review
of standalone computer systems reveals many ways they may be

3.1.1 Operating Systems The operating systems control the functions of
the computer: how information is stored, how memory is managed, and how
information is displayed -- it?s the master program of the machine. At
its core, the operating system is a group of discrete software programs
that have been assembled into a larger program containing millions of
lines of code. Large modern day operating systems cannot be thoroughly
tested for security anomalies, or "holes," which represent opportunities
for unauthorized access.

3.1.2 Rogue Software Programs ?Rogue? software applications can be
installed surreptitiously, or with the unwitting help of another. These
programs can install a ?back door?, which usually consists of
programming instructions that disable obscure security settings in an
operating system and that enable future access without detection; some
back door programs even log the passwords used to gain access to the
compromised system or systems for future use by the intruder.

3.1.3 Ineffective Passwords Computer users often choose passwords that
are in the dictionary, or that have personal relevance, and are quite
predictable. Static, or unchanging, passwords represent another easy
method for breaching a computer system -- once a password is
compromised, the user and the system administrators have no way of
knowing the password is known to an intruder. Dynamic passwords, or
non-dictionary passwords are problematic for many users, who write them
down and keep them near their computers for easy access -- their own, or
anyone who breaches physical security of the computer installation.

3.1.4 Uninstalled Software Updates Out-of-date system software
containing known security problems presents an easy target to an
intruder. Systems administrators cannot keep systems updated as a result
of work overload, competing priorities, or ignorance. The weaknesses of
systems are publicized, and out-of-date systems typically offer
well-known vulnerabilities for easy access.

3.1.5 Default Installations Default installations of some operating
systems disable many of the built-in security features in a given
operating system. In addition, system administrators unintentionally
misconfigure systems, or include unnecessary services that may lead to
unauthorized access. Again, these weaknesses are widely publicized
within the computing community, and default or misconfigured
installations present an easy target.

4. Personnel Security

4.1 The most complex element in information security is the people who
use the systems in which the information resides. Weaknesses in
personnel security negate the effort and cost of the other three types
of security: physical, network, and computer system security.

4.1.1 Social Engineering Social engineering, or "gagging," is defined as
gaining intelligence through deception. Employees are trained to be
helpful, and to do what they are told in the workplace. The skilled
social engineer will use these traits to his or her advantage as they
seek to gain information that will enable them to achieve their

4.1.2 Email Attachments Email attachments may be sent with covert code
embedded within. Upon receiving the email, most people will launch the
attachment, which can lower the security settings on the target machine
without the user's knowledge. The likelihood of a successful
installation using this method can be increased by following up the
email submittal with a telephone call to prompt the person to open the

Information Security Exploits

Information security exploits are the methods, tactics, and strategies
used to breach the integrity, confidentiality, availability or access
control of information. Discovery of compromised information security
has several consequences, the most important of which is the decline in
the level of trust associated with the compromised information and
systems that contain that information. Examples of typical security
exploits follow.

5. Physical Security Exploits

5.1 Data Backup Exploit Using deception or sheer bravado, the intruder
can walk into the off site backup storage facility, and ask for the
physical data backup by pretending to be from a certain agency. The
intruder can claim that particular backup is necessary to perform a data
restoration. Once an intruder has physical possession of the data, the
intruder can work with the data as though he possessed superuser, or
system administrator, privileges.

5.2 Physical Access Exploit If an intruder gains physical access to a
computer and is able to reboot it, the intruder can gain complete
control of the system and bypass all security measures. An extremely
powerful exploit, but one that exposes the intruder to great personal
risk because they're physically present on the premises.

5.3 Network Physical Access Exploit Physical access to a network enables
an intruder to install a tap on the network cable, which can be used to
eavesdrop on all network traffic. Eavesdropping enables the intruder to
capture passwords as they travel over the network, which will enable
full access to the machines whose passwords are compromised.

6. Network Security Exploits

6.1 Network software exists that probes computers for weaknesses. Once
one system weaknesses are revealed and the system is compromised, the
intruder can install software (called ?sniffer? software) that
compromises all systems on the network. Following that, an intruder can
install software that logs the passwords used to access that compromised
machine. Users routinely use the same or similar passwords across
multiple machines; thus, once one password for one machine is obtained,
then multiple machines can be compromised (see "Personnel Security

7. Computer System Exploits

7.1 Vulnerabilities in programs (e.g., the UNIX program sendmail) can be
exploited to gain remote access to the target computer. Many system
programs contain bugs that enable the intruder to trick the software
into behaving in a way other than that which is intended in order to
gain unauthorized access rights, even though the application is a part
of the operating system of the computer.

7.2 A misconfigured installation on a computer in operation at the
Raleigh News and Observer, a paper in Raleigh, North Carolina,
demonstrates the problematic aspect of system misconfiguration. Using
the UNIX program ?Finger,? which enables one to identify the users that
are currently logged into a computer system, I created a user name on
the computer system I controlled. The user name I assigned myself
matched exactly the user name that existed on the target host. The
misconfigured system was set to ?trust? any computer on the network,
which left the entire network open for unauthorized access.

8. Personnel Security Exploits

8.1 Social Engineering -- involves tricking or persuading people to
reveal information or to take certain actions at the behest of the
intruder. My work as a private investigator relied heavily on my skills
in social engineering.

In my successful efforts to social engineer my way into Motorola, I used
a three-level social engineering attack to bypass the information
security measures then in use. First I was able to convince Motorola
Operations employees to provide me, on repeated occasions, the pass code
on their security access device, as well as the static PIN. The reason
this was so extraordinary is that the pass code on their access device
changed every 60 seconds: every time I wanted to gain unauthorized
access, I had to call the Operations Center and ask for the password in
effect for that minute.

The second level involved convincing the employees to enable an account
for my use on one of their machines, and the third level involved
convincing one of the engineers who was already entitled to access one
of the computers to give me his password. I overcame that engineer's
vigorous reluctance to provide the password by convincing him that I was
a Motorola employee, and that I was looking at a form that documented
the password that he used to access his personal workstation on
Motorola's network -- despite the fact that he never filled out any such
form! Once I gained access to that machine, I obtained Telnet access to
the target machine, access which I had sought all along.

8.2 Voice Mail and Fax Exploit This exploit relies on convincing an
employee at a large company to enable a voice mailbox: the intruder
would call the people who administer the voice mailboxes for the target
company and request a mailbox. The pretext would be that the intruder
works for a different division, and would like to retrieve messages
without making a toll call.

Once the intruder has access to the voice mail system, the intruder
would call the receptionist, represent himself as an employee of the
company, and ask that they take messages for him; last but not least,
the intruder would request the fax number and ask that incoming faxes be
held for pickup. This sets the stage for the call to the target division
of the company.

At this point, the intruder would call the target division to initiate
the fax exploit with the goal of obtaining the targeted confidential
company information. During that call the intruder would identify
himself as an employee of the division whose voice mail and fax systems
have just been compromised, he would cite the voice mail box in support
of his identity, and would social engineer the target employee into
faxing the target information to the compromised fax number located at
one of their other offices.

Now the intruder would call the receptionist, tell the receptionist that
he's in a business meeting, and ask that the receptionist fax the
confidential material "to the hotel." The intruder picks up the fax
containing confidential information at the secondary fax, which cannot
be traced back to either the intruder or the targeted company.

I used this exploit to successfully compromise ATT's protected network
access points routinely. ATT had learned that a system had been
compromised by unauthorized entry at a central network access point
called "DataKit." They imposed network access passwords on all DataKits
to inhibit unauthorized access. I contacted one of the manager's
secretaries and used the Fax Exploit to convince the secretary to fax me
the password that enabled access to a DataKit that controlled dial-up
access to ATT's worldwide computer network.

9. Recommendations The Voice Mail and Fax Exploit demonstrates the most
important element in my testimony today: that verification mechanisms
are the weak link in information security, and voice mail and fax are
the tools used to verify the authenticity of the credentials presented
by someone seeking physical, network, or computer systems access.

The methods that will most effectively minimize the ability of intruders
to compromise information security are comprehensive user training and
education. Enacting policies and procedures simply won't suffice. Even
with oversight the policies and procedures may not be effective: my
access to Motorola, Nokia, ATT, Sun depended upon the willingness of
people to bypass policies and procedures that were in place for years
before I compromised them successfully. The corporate security measures
that I breached were created by some of the best and brightest in the
business, some of whom may even have been consulted by the committee as
you drafted your legislation, Senate Bill S1993.

S1993 is represents a good first step toward the goal of increasing
information security on government computer systems. I have several
recommendations that I hope will increase the effectiveness of your

1. Each agency perform a thorough risk assessment of the assets they
want to protect.

2. Perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether the price to
protect those systems represents real value.

3. Implement policies, procedures, standards and guidelines consistent
with the risk assessment and cost benefit analyses. Employee training to
recognize sophisticated social engineering attacks is of paramount

4. After implementing the policies, procedures, standards and
guidelines, create an audit and oversight program that measures
compliance throughout the affected government agencies. The frequency of
those audits ought to be determined consistent with the mission of a
particular agency: the more valuable the data, the more frequent the
audit process.

5. Create a numeric "trust ranking" that quantifies and summarizes the
results of the audit and oversight programs described above. The numeric
"trust ranking" would provide at-a-glance ranking -- a report card, if
you will -- of the characteristics that comprise the four major
categories defined above: physical, network, computer systems, and

6. Effective audit procedures -- implemented from the top down -- must
be part of an appropriate system of rewards and consequences in order to
motivate system administrators, personnel managers, and government
employees to maintain effective information security consistent with the
goals of this committee.

Obviously a brief presentation such as the one I've made today cannot
convey adequately the measures needed to implement effective information
security measures. I'm happy to answer any questions that may have been
left unanswered for any members of the Committee.

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