<By Timothy W. Coleman
Timothy W. Coleman is a DC-based writer and security analyst who has co-founded two technology startup firms. He attended Singularity University's Graduate Studies Program at NASA Ames Research Center and has a Masters of Public and International Affairs in Security and Intelligence Studies and a Masters of Business Administration in Finance.
Kevin Mitnick was once known as the 'World's Most Wanted' social engineer and computer hacker. One doesn't acquire a title like that - nor an accompanying prison sentence - for vanilla exploits. While in Federal custody, authorities even placed Mitnick in solitary confinement; reportedly, he was deemed so dangerous that if allowed access to a telephone he could start a nuclear war by just whistling into it.
From the 1970s up until his last arrest in 1995 Kevin Mitnick skillfully eluded and bypassed corporate security safeguards, penetrating some of the most well-guarded systems, including, amongst countless others, the likes of Sun Microsystems, Digital Equipment Corporation, Motorola, Netcom, and Nokia. He has even had to go on record and deny hacking into the Department of Defense's North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and wiretapping the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
At a recent app-enabled cloud network performance and security briefing hosted by Citrix and Palo Alto Networks in Washington, DC, Mitnick opened up about his former life and introduced himself to the Washington crowd accordingly.
"I assume there are a lot of Federal agencies here so we may know each other from a past life," Mitnick said in a devious, yet still tempered tone.
With the bylines of "Most Wanted" and "Infamous" and a laundry list of corporate names etched onto his belt of exploits, it'd be fair to assume that Mitnick's hacking masterpiece evolved from one of his more high profile penetrations. That assumption, however, couldn't be further from the truth.
Actually, the seminal stunt of his hacking career is much more puerile but nonetheless humorous. As Mitnick explained, "My favorite hack was actually when I was a kid."
Mitnick hacked the frequency of a local McDonald's drive-through ordering system and took control over the drive-through speaker, relishing the consequential bewilderment of unsuspecting McDonald's employees.
"I would sit across the street from McDonald's and I would take their order and tell them they were the 50th customer so your order is free. Please drive through your order is free," Mitnick reminisced. "People would drive up to the window and I would say, 'Our weight detection system detected your car is a little heavy so we recommend the salad instead of the Big Mac'."
"It got to the point that the manager of the McDonald's was wondering what the heck was going on and he walked outside and looked in the cars and around the parking lot, but he could not see anything because I was across the street. He even walked up to the drive-through speaker and looked at it and then stuck his head inside to see if there was actually someone inside and I yelled, 'What are you looking at?!'"
Mitnick didn't only revel in the joy of trolling individual customer orders, though. He went on to explain, "But my favorite was when the police drove up and I would say, 'Hide the cocaine, hide the cocaine!'" Alas, the theater of the ensuing build-up and moment when the unsuspecting employee met the suspicious glances of the police would befit any comedic late night show.
McDonald's, when reached for comment, was less than amused by Mitnick's claims. As all Fortune 500 companies take hacking very seriously, Danya Proud, Director of Media Relations, McDonald's USA stated, "We are not aware of this matter; however, security of our business, information and systems remains a top priority."
No word yet if McDonald's plans to hire Mitnick to consult on the protection of the integrity of their drive-through ordering process. One can only hope that measures to counter such nefarious hacks have been implemented.
At any length, look across the street if you ever encounter a problem during a wee-hours drive-thru run to Mickey D's. The world's once most wanted and infamous Mitnick may be enjoying a little bit of reflective levity at your expense, especially if you're the 50th customer.
This material published courtesy of Singularity University.