Technology

Mitnick Joins Vegas Hack Investigation


The state of Nevada has granted the proprietor of a Las Vegas in-room

adult entertainment service additional time to prove that malicious

hackers are disrupting his telephone lines to benefit competitors-- a case

he hopes to make with the help of his new investigator, former hacker

Kevin Mitnick.

Eddie Munoz is embroiled in a legal battle with Sprint Central Telephone,

Las Vegas' local telephone company, over what he claims is the company's

negligence in allowing hackers or corrupt insiders to systematically

block, divert and monitor calls to his service since 1991, costing him as

much as $20 million in lost business. In February, following years of

complaints by Munoz and other Vegas business-owners, the state public

utilities commission (PUC) found "probable cause" to hold hearings on the

matter, giving Munoz the power to subpoena records and take depositions

from Sprint.

Sprint Central Telephone attorney Patrick Reilly did not return phone

calls, but in PUC filings, the company insists there's no merit to Munoz's

complaint. "For years, Munoz has made unsubstantiated allegations of call

blocking and call diversions against Sprint," Reilly wrote in an

unsuccessful motion to dismiss the case last month. "After obtaining

Sprint's assistance in investigating this matter, and now after conducting

one round of discovery, Munoz still cannot support his allegations."

Munoz admits he has no smoking gun, but accuses Sprint of dragging its

feet in responding to his subpoenas. In July, over Sprint's objections,

the PUC granted Munoz a continuance from his September hearing date to

allow him to do more investigating. A public hearing is now set for

January.

Mitnick, 38, joined the investigation after SecurityFocus reported on the

case in May, and interviewed the ex-hacker about his own past forays

into Sprint Central Telephone's network. While the company claims it has

never suffered a computer intrusion, Mitnick detailed extensive

penetrations into Sprint Central Telephone's systems from approximately

1992 until his February, 1995 arrest.

Twenty months out of prison after a five year stretch, Mitnick is under

federal supervision, and had to obtain permission from his probation

officer before working for Munoz. He remains barred by court order from

using computers or the Internet. "He's not able to touch the computer, so

everything has to take an extra step," says Munoz. "It's kind of

frustrating for all of us... But he really knows what he's doing."

Mitnick, who hired an associate to do any computer work needed, says he's

taking a systematic approach to the case.

"I believe there's a lot of circumstantial evidence that there's a

problem, and what we're trying to do is isolate the problem," says

Mitnick. "For now, we want to take as much traffic out of Vegas as

possible, and see if there's a change in the call volume."

To that end, earlier this month Mitnick moved Munoz's phone lines into a

rented office in Los Angeles, where a temp worker answers calls for

Munoz's private nude "dancers", and relays the requests to Munoz. "The

purpose of this test is to take Sprint out of the terminating end out of

the loop," says Mitnick, "and see if it's a problem at the originating

end."

Mitnick says he's waiting for data from his long distance carrier before

drawing conclusions from the tests.

The ex-hacker is currently working on a book about social engineering

attacks in information security, and rents himself out as a speaker at

corporate functions. He also hosts a weekly A.M radio talk show in Los Angeles.

His consulting fee in the Vegas case is "what any good lawyer would

charge," Mitnick says. By Kevin Poulsen


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