John Markoff

John Markoff

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John Markoff is a journalist
A journalist collects and distributes news and other information. A journalist's work is referred to as journalism.A reporter is a type of journalist who researchs, writes, and reports on information to be presented in mass media, including print media , electronic media , and digital media A...

 best known for his work at The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

, and a book and series of articles about the 1990s pursuit and capture of hacker
Hacker (computer security)
In computer security and everyday language, a hacker is someone who breaks into computers and computer networks. Hackers may be motivated by a multitude of reasons, including profit, protest, or because of the challenge...

 Kevin Mitnick
Kevin Mitnick
Kevin David Mitnick is a computer security consultant, author, and hacker. In the late 20th century, he was convicted of various computer- and communications-related crimes. At the time of his arrest, he was the most-wanted computer criminal in the United States.-Personal life:Mitnick grew up in...



Markoff was born in Oakland
Oakland, California
Oakland is a major West Coast port city on San Francisco Bay in the U.S. state of California. It is the eighth-largest city in the state with a 2010 population of 390,724...

, California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

 and grew up in Palo Alto
Palo Alto, California
Palo Alto is a California charter city located in the northwest corner of Santa Clara County, in the San Francisco Bay Area of California, United States. The city shares its borders with East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Stanford, Portola Valley, and Menlo Park. It is...

, California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

. He graduated from Whitman College
Whitman College
Whitman College is a private, co-educational, non-sectarian, residential undergraduate liberal arts college located in Walla Walla, Washington. Initially founded as a seminary by a territorial legislative charter in 1859, the school became a four year degree granting institution in 1883...

, Walla Walla, Washington
Walla Walla, Washington
Walla Walla is the largest city in and the county seat of Walla Walla County, Washington, United States. The population was 31,731 at the 2010 census...

, with a BA in Sociology in 1971.

After leaving graduate school, he returned to California where he began writing for Pacific News Service
Pacific News Service
Pacific News Service is a nonprofit media organization founded in 1969 by Franz Schurmann, the historian, and Orville Schell, a noted author, journalist and Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley...

, an alternative news syndicate based in San Francisco
San Francisco, California
San Francisco , officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the financial, cultural, and transportation center of the San Francisco Bay Area, a region of 7.15 million people which includes San Jose and Oakland...

. He freelanced for a number of publications including the Nation, Mother Jones and Saturday Review. In 1981 he became part of the original staff of the computer industry weekly InfoWorld
InfoWorld is an information technology online media and events business operating under the umbrella of InfoWorld Media Group, a division of IDG...

. In 1984 he became an editor at Byte Magazine
Byte (magazine)
BYTE magazine was a microcomputer magazine, influential in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s because of its wide-ranging editorial coverage...

 and in 1985 he left to become a reporter in the business section of the San Francisco Examiner, where he wrote about Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley is a term which refers to the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area in Northern California in the United States. The region is home to many of the world's largest technology corporations...


In 1988 he moved to New York to write for the business section of the New York Times. In November 1988 he reported that Robert Tappan Morris
Robert Tappan Morris
Robert Tappan Morris, , is an American computer scientist, best known for creating the Morris Worm in 1988, considered the first computer worm on the Internet - and subsequently becoming the first person convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.He went on to co-found the online store...

, son of National Security Agency
National Security Agency
The National Security Agency/Central Security Service is a cryptologic intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the collection and analysis of foreign communications and foreign signals intelligence, as well as protecting U.S...

Cryptography is the practice and study of techniques for secure communication in the presence of third parties...

 Robert Morris
Robert Morris (cryptographer)
Robert Morris , was an American cryptographer and computer scientist. -Family and Education:Morris was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were Walter W. Morris, a salesman, and Helen Kelly Morris...

, was the author of what would become known as the Internet worm.

In December 1993 he wrote an early article about the World Wide Web
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web is a system of interlinked hypertext documents accessed via the Internet...

, referring to it as a "map to the buried treasures of the Information Age."

Markoff and Kevin Mitnick

On July 4, 1994 he wrote an article about Kevin Mitnick
Kevin Mitnick
Kevin David Mitnick is a computer security consultant, author, and hacker. In the late 20th century, he was convicted of various computer- and communications-related crimes. At the time of his arrest, he was the most-wanted computer criminal in the United States.-Personal life:Mitnick grew up in...

, who was then a fugitive on the run from a number of law enforcement agencies. He wrote several more pieces detailing Mitnick's capture. Markoff also co-wrote, with Tsutomu Shimomura
Tsutomu Shimomura
is a Japanese scientist and computer security expert based in the United States, who became an instant celebrity when he, together with computer journalist John Markoff, tracked down and helped the FBI arrest hacker Kevin Mitnick....

, the book Takedown about the chase. The book later became a film that was released direct to video in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

. Markoff's writing about Mitnick was the subject of criticism by Mitnick supporters and unaffiliated parties who maintained that Markoff's accounts exaggerated or even invented Mitnick's activities and successes. Markoff stood by his reporting in several responses.

The film went far further, with Markoff himself stating to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2000, "I thought it was a fundamentally dishonest movie." (Mitnick stated a number of times that he settled a lawsuit with distributors Miramax over the film, but details were confidential; Miramax has apparently never publicly confirmed that.)

Markoff was also accused by Jonathan Littman of journalistic impropriety and of over-hyping Mitnick's actual crimes. Littman published a more sympathetic account of Mitnick's time as a fugitive in his own book on the incident, The Fugitive Game. Further controversy came over the release of the movie Takedown
Takedown (film)
Track Down, also known as Takedown outside the USA, is a 2000 film about computer hacker Kevin Mitnick, based on the book Takedown by John Markoff and Tsutomu Shimomura...

, with Littman alleging that portions of the film were taken from his book The Fugitive Game without permission.

Markoff's involvement with Mitnick is thoroughly covered in the documentary Freedom Downtime, in which an interview is conducted with Markoff who is unable to elaborate on the veracity of Mitnick's charges.


After Mitnick, Markoff continued to write about technology, focusing at times on wireless networking, writing early stories about non-line-of-sight broadband wireless, phased-array antennas, and multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO
In radio, multiple-input and multiple-output, or MIMO , is the use of multiple antennas at both the transmitter and receiver to improve communication performance. It is one of several forms of smart antenna technology...

) antenna systems to enhance Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi or Wifi, is a mechanism for wirelessly connecting electronic devices. A device enabled with Wi-Fi, such as a personal computer, video game console, smartphone, or digital audio player, can connect to the Internet via a wireless network access point. An access point has a range of about 20...

. He covered Jim Gillogly's 1999 break of the first three sections of the CIA's Kryptos
Kryptos is an encrypted sculpture by American artist Jim Sanborn located on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Virginia. Since its dedication on November 3, 1990, there has been much speculation about the meaning of the encrypted messages it bears...

 cipher, and writes regularly about semiconductors and supercomputers as well. He wrote the first two articles describing Admiral John Poindexter
John Poindexter
John Marlan Poindexter is a retired United States naval officer and Department of Defense official. He was Deputy National Security Advisor and National Security Advisor for the Reagan administration. He was convicted in April 1990 of multiple felonies as a result of his actions in the Iran-Contra...

's return to government and the creation of the Total Information Awareness
Information Awareness Office
The Information Awareness Office was established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in January 2002 to bring together several DARPA projects focused on applying surveillance and information technology to track and monitor terrorists and other asymmetric threats to national security,...

 project. In 2009 he moved from the Business/Tech section of the New York Times to the Science section.

See also

  • Interview with John Markoff about What the Dormouse Said, April 13, 2006 (audio)

External links