This slanderous bit of "reporting" was originally published in my short series of "Second Opinion" columns on O'Reilly & Associates' I-Media webzine, the discontinued precursor of Web Review.

I-Media Editor's Note: In the sprit of the "news stories" about Microsoft's acquisition of the Catholic Church, we present this facetious column about the true identity of Kevin Mitnick. Chris Locke says: "I count John Markoff, Jared Sandberg and Peter Lewis as personal friends, and have greatly enjoyed the work of William Gibson, though I've unfortunately never had the pleasure. I once got email on the WELL from Bruce Sterling, but that was a long time ago; I'm sure he's never done anything illegal. As to Tsutomu Shimomura, I have no evidence one way or another as to whether he is a figment in the mind of William Gibson, though I believe there are possibilities here that bear further investigation. Finally, the operating system software referred to below is purely a product of imagination."

This Just In...

By Christopher Locke

In a development sure to rock cyberspace to its very foundations, it was revealed today that Kevin D. Mitnick, the notorious hacker who breached the security of innumerable Internet sites, is in fact John Markoff of The New York Times.

The news appeared in a front-page story by Jared Sandberg in today's Wall Street Journal. Long suspicious of how Markoff was managing to beat the Journal on major Internet hacker stories, Sandberg said he last year began quietly working with investigators at the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) to determine the exact whereabouts of Mr. Markoff at the time of various security incidents he was then tracking. Correlating Markoff's logins with these events "raised more than a few eyebrows at CERT," Mr. Sandberg said.

When Markoff could not be contacted at the San Francisco desk of The New York Times as the story about Mitnick's exploits was breaking, Sandberg became even more suspicious. Flying to Raleigh, N.C., the Journal reporter attempted to arrange an interview with Mitnick through the sheriff's office there. However, Mitnick's public defender did everything possible to prevent the meeting from taking place. "In light of the fact that he had only that morning met with 13 book publishing agents, I found this sudden reticence rather odd," said Sandberg, who was by then becoming increasingly convinced that Mitnick was in fact an alias for Markoff.

To uncover the facts, Sandberg employed some hacking of his own. Cutting a deal with a group of German crackers he had been interviewing with the promise of anonymity, Sandberg suggested that they might want to have a look at certain directories residing on Markoff's Mac at, which is directly connected to the global Internet. As the Times reporter had long had access to the inner workings of CERT, as well as to some of the best minds in the computer security field, breaching the firewall protecting Markoff's machine presented unique challenges that the German group readily accepted. After only 36 hours of intensive hacking they hit paydirt: a verbatim copy of Markoff's page-one story that the Times ran on February 16, 1995 -- but dated December 12 of the previous year.

Markoff Confesses

The file that broke the case wide open was discovered among a series of half-finished chapters for a book in progress, on which Markoff was evidently collaborating with William Gibson, the widely famed originator of the science fiction "cyberpunk" genre. Markoff had already achieved some success with a book titled Cyberpunk that gave real-world examples of Gibson's fictive extrapolations in Neuromancer and other novels. Gibson's work is hugely popular among Internet users.

Finally able to confront the cracker masquerading as Kevin Mitnick with this evidence in the Raleigh county jail, Sandberg says Markoff gave up the pose and agreed to tell the full story for a 50% cut of the residuals.

While beset by a severe case of writer's block, Markoff said, he had come to realize that there was far greater potential in deploying some of the tactics he was learning about through his research than in writing about them in the New York paper for which he worked. While Markoff had played a lead role in reporting on developments in online and especially Internet arenas over the past 18 months, he expressed frustration that the paper had recently decided to play down cybernews since it had reached "utterly ridiculous proportions relative to our other coverage," as one Times executive who asked not to be identified put it.

In addition, Markoff found he could easily transfer cash into numbered Swiss bank accounts by skimming a percentage from the fees charged by an emerging crop of Internet transaction brokers on whom he had been reporting, and who had all offered him complimentary accounts and passwords. However, despite massive hype to the contrary, Markoff found that no one on the Internet had the least interest in buying anything, so this hoped-for extracurricular revenue stream never exceeded $20 in any given quarter.

Making the News

A far more lucrative opportunity arose, Markoff indicated, when a very large software firm based in the Pacific Northwest approached him with a proposition that was hard to refuse, he said. Anxious to slow the flood of firms coming onto the Internet until its own new operating system was due to ship -- sometime in late 1996, according to what he gleaned from these conversations -- the firm proposed that Markoff produce a series of stories intended to sow serious doubt in the minds of corporate information managers. Security issues were an obvious choice, he said, to slow the Internet bandwagon.

Cautiously approaching the Hollywood studio that had negotiated film rights to the Gibson/Markoff work-in-progress, the Times reporter was able to secure additional funding for his planned metamorphosis into the most wanted man in cyberspace. Although the studio has to date refused any comment, it is rumored that the journalist-impostor was personally bankrolled by David Geffen and Steven Spielberg, who saw enormous potential in scripting the planned movie from true-life events they could directly control from the outset, thus realizing substantial cost savings on a project that had already gone seriously over-budget.

In a wrinkle that came to light just before the Journal went to press, Sandberg found that Tsutomu Shimomura, the computer security expert who had helped authorities uncover and arrest Kevin Mitnick, also did not exist. Shimomura, as it turned out, was in fact William Gibson trying out a new set of epicanthic implants. Sandberg discovered this after an exchange of email with Bruce Sterling, rumored to be disgruntled about the royalty split with Gibson on The Difference Engine, which the two co-authored several years ago.

Wall Street has reacted rapidly by putting on hold any speculation about the chances of Dow Jones acquiring the New York Times Corporation, talk of which had been circulating recently in knowledgeable trading circles. The Times has pointedly ignored the news in its own pages, opting instead for massive attention to America Online's latest flurry of press releases.

Asked for his personal views on this astonishing series of developments, Mr. Sandberg's only comment was that, with Markoff now out of the way, he felt more confident of going head-to-head with Peter Lewis of The New York Times. Before Sandberg could elaborate, however, our meeting was interrupted by an urgent call from Industrial Light and Magic. Surely, we haven't heard the last of this still-unfolding drama.

Copyright (c) 1995 Christopher Locke and Entropy Gradient Reversals. All Rights Reserved.

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