Once the most-wanted hacker in the US, Kevin Mitnick, the cracker extraordinaire and virtual ghost in the wires, spoke with RT about NSA snooping, Snowden’s status as a whistleblower or traitor and the virtues of VPNs in our surveillance saturated world.
RT: We’ve got hundreds of people writing you on Twitter, and the most popular question is, ‘how can citizens protect data and communications while still using popular corporate software and services.
KM: Well it’s pretty scary, because now, with the revelations from Snowden, that allegedly the NSA has approached and partnered with a lot of companies to develop security software, to develop VPN [virtual private network] technology, they might have intentionally weakened this technology so they can intercept communications. But an average citizen, if they are not a terrorist, they are really not concerned about an intelligence agency intercepting communications, but more a criminal organization. So the first thing I’d recommend to the average person on the street is, whenever you’re out in the public, or you’re in a hotel like I’m in a hotel in Moscow, or using public wi-fi, is use a VPN service. Because what that immediately does is, it takes your data and it kind of puts it in an encrypted envelope so that people can’t really intercept and spy on that. So as a consumer I would think about using a VPN service, and they’re pretty cheap.
RT: But anything can basically be hacked.
KM: Everything can be hacked if your adversary has enough time, money and resources. And of course intelligence agencies have unlimited budgets.
RT: Is there any way to stop hackers, like making strict laws or a governmental department that will follow them? Is that possible?
KM: I don’t think so. Hacking has been going on since the 1960s and it hasn’t stopped yet. I mean I started hacking in the early 90s and it’s only gotten worse; it hasn’t gotten better.
RT: Another popular question on Twitter: Is it okay to bank online?
KM: Well, I look at it this way, like using my credit card over the Internet, I do it all of the time and at least I don’t really care if somebody steals my credit card number. Do you know why? Because at least in America, if there is any fraud on the account, I simply call up the bank and they take the charge off. I have to basically sign a letter, an affidavit that it wasn’t me, and the problem goes away. Now in some countries that might be different, where the consumer has the burden of proof, then I’d be a little bit concerned, but it’s really where does the liability lie? Does it lie with the consumer, does it lie with the merchant, does it lie with the bank?
RT: Could a boycott of tech gadgetry, like iPods, firms like Verizon and Google, who are giving our info to the NSA, deter them?
KM: No. I don’t think so. This is like the form of hacktivism where you have a group of individuals, whether its LulzSec or Anonymous, and they break into stuff and they try to get the media to cover the message they want to send, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really change the behavior of a government agency or a company. Basically, they go out and try to prosecute the guys. The thing that I have seen change, and I wouldn’t call Snowden an activist, I would call him a whistleblower, is because of his exposures of what the government has really been doing, now that has created change and debate and stuff like that. That’s the only time I have really seen it.