Besieged by attacks, AT&T dumps celebrity hacker
The perils of being Kevin Mitnick
Updated Over the years, Kevin Mitnick has gotten used to the attacks on his website and cell phone account that routinely result from being a convicted hacker turned security expert. What he finds much harder to stomach is the treatment he's getting from his providers.
Over the past month, both HostedHere.net, his longtime webhost, and AT&T, his cellular provider since he was released from prison more than nine years ago, have told him they no longer want him as a customer. The reason: his status as a celebrity hacker makes his accounts too hard to defend against the legions of script kiddies who regularly attack them.
The move by AT&T came this week after Mitnick hired a lawyer to complain that his privacy was being invaded by people posting Mitnick's account information in public hacking forums. It included the eight-digit password Mitnick used to authenticate himself online, the numbers for his cell phone and land lines, his billing address, and the last four digits of his social security number.
"They can't seem to secure my account," Mitnick told The Register. "And then instead of doing something about it, they try to kill the messenger and want to boot me off their network when all I want them to do is to secure my account so no one gets access to my phone records."
Mitnick said the cellular account has been repeatedly breached over the years, despite a wide range of countermeasures he's followed to prevent the attacks. In recent years, he's committed the password to memory and has deliberately not shared it with anyone or kept it stored on a computer. For a while, his former girlfriend, who was also repeatedly attacked, disabled her online account altogether, but even then she regularly found it would later be restored. The people carrying out the attacks would then post the phone records online in an attempt to embarrass them.
"There are so many ways into these networks," he said. "They have to take some responsibility, not just silence the people that are filing complaints."
About 18 hours after this article was first published, an AT&T spokeswoman issued the following statement:
"We investigated Mr. Mitnick’s claims and determined they were without any foundation. We refused Mr. Mitnick’s demands for money, but did offer to let him out of his contractual obligations so that he could find a carrier that he would be comfortable with. In response to your question regarding customer password security: we require that any systems containing sensitive information regarding passwords encrypt the data."
Mitnick said that per AT&T policy, his password could only be digits and no more than eight characters long.
It was three weeks ago that Mitnick was forced to find a new webhost after HostedHere told him they no longer wanted to provide service for MitnickSecurity.com, his longtime website. The decision came after years of relentless attacks that the company was powerless to stop.
In the past three months, Mitnick's site was taken out twice, and one of those attacks also caused a sustained outage for the South Carolina-based service provider. After years of trying to fend off the assaults, the company decided it was time to part ways with Mitnick.
"Kevin is a high-profile target," said David Wykofka, IT director at HostedHere. "When vulnerabilities come out in third-party vendor software, he is one of the first targets on their list. This is just one of the perils of being Kevin Mitnick. If you're Barack Obama, you don't get webhosting at GoDaddy."
No doubt, the companies are free to choose who they count as customers. But in asking Mitnick to take his business elsewhere, they seem to be making the tacit admission that they are unable to secure the accounts of users whose only fault is being a high-profile target.
What's most irritating to Mitnick, he says, was the haste AT&T showed in asking him to find another provider. And that despite the unusually large roaming charges he incurs that often push his monthly bill above $2,000 per month.
"You'd think they'd like to talk to me and say 'how do you think these guys are getting in?', maybe even offer to set up an account not in my name," he said. "Rather than do that, for a customer that spends up to $20K a year, it's 'goodbye.'" ®
This article was updated to correct the holder of the cellular account that was re-enabled. It belonged to Mitnick's former girlfriend. The article was later updated to include comment from AT&T.