Mitnick joins Vegas hack investigation

Victim of 'mob phreakers' gets new cybersleuth

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 AM radio talk show in Los Angeles.

His consulting fee in the Vegas case is "what any good lawyer would charge," Mitnick says.

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