Owned by Tecno_M@ster









                                                  FREE KEVIN MITNICK  


Mitnick wants to save others from hackers

By Troy Anderson, Staff Writer

THOUSAND OAKS -- Just five years ago, cyber-crime poster boy Kevin Mitnick was on a desperate cross-country hacking spree, using cellular telephones and his wits to avoid FBI agents and U.S. marshals.

Now just several months out of prison, the man who authorities feared could launch nuclear missiles with his computer insists he's kicked his hacking addiction and wants to help rid the world of digital criminals.


"Before all this, everybody had the image that I was this cyber-monster, the evil villain of the world," Mitnick said during an interview last week at his dad's apartment in Thousand Oaks.

"After all these experiences, brushes with the law, ending up in jail and doing things that are counterproductive to society, I'm attempting to take my abilities and use them for the public's good. I'm trying to use my background and expertise in helping others prevent computer break-ins."

No longer pursued by government agents, he is a computer-age folk hero courted by Congress, movie studios, radio talk shows and Internet businesses who want to mine him for his cyber-world insight.

Los Angeles attorney David Schindler, who was chief prosecutor on the Mitnick case until last year, said he does not begrudge Mitnick the chance to make money off his talent.

"What would be of concern is the extent to which his notoriety extends from his prior criminal activity," he said. "And from that end it is somewhat ironic and unfortunate that he should become a purported expert when there are hundreds, if not thousands of law-abiding, talented consultants who frankly know far more than Mr. Mitnick about how to safeguard systems."

Criticism aside, Mitnick is still a darling of the hacker underground. His fans run a "FreeKevin.com" web site and media critic Steven Brill offered him a job as an online columnist for the e-business venture "Contentville."

Getting offers He's been offered a job as the host of a Los Angeles radio talk show and as a consultant for a cyber-crime movie. The television show "America's Most Wanted" asked him to appear as an expert on computer hacking. He was paid to write an article for Time magazine.

"I'm not tempted to hack anymore," he said. "It's weird. I've kind of grown out of it. I'm not saying prison rehabilitated me. That's a crock. All prison is is punishment. I'm 36 years old now. Hackers tend to grow out of it in their early 30s.

"There is the myth of Kevin Mitnick and the reality of Kevin Mitnick. The reality is I did wrong. I broke into computers for the fun, the thrill and the intellectual challenge.

"Then you have the myth of this guy who wants to screw with anybody any way he can. He can get into your credit record, send a virus, erase police records and break into the National Security Agency."

Under a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to various computer crimes stemming from a scheme to obtain proprietary software belonging to cellular telephone and computer software companies, according to court documents. He was sentenced to 68 months in jail and ordered to pay $4,525 in restitution and assessments, which he has already paid.

Admits to crimes Since 1981, Mitnick was arrested four times and imprisoned for six years, nine months. Although he admits to breaking the law, he said government claims that he caused companies hundreds of millions of dollars in damage were based on the costs of research and development for the software he downloaded.

"How did the government justify treating me as the hacker poster boy? They had to show how much damage I caused."

Mitnick's father, Alan, said he's elated that his son is out of prison, but he's baffled by the government's reluctance to allow him to take various jobs.

"We're not talking about John Dillinger or Bonnie and Clyde," he said. "We're talking about a white-collar, no-profit kind of crime. More of a pain in the ass type of crime. To say he should get a job pounding nails in construction -- that's just a waste of a very talented brain."

The terms of his probation are designed to control the "compulsive and serial nature of his hacking," said Christopher Painter, deputy chief of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section at the U.S. Department of Justice.

His federal probation officer, Larry Hawley, said he leans toward allowing Mitnick to take some of the offers to help society stop cyber-villains.

But Mitnick won't be allowed to travel outside the Southern California area until his probation ends in 2003.

Barred from computers Since his release from federal prison in January, Mitnick has been barred from using the computers he loves so much. But that hasn't kept him from enjoying some of the same technology that gave him his start in computers.

He carries a cellular telephone and drives a fiery red Toyota MR2 sports car, equipped with an amateur (HAM) radio -- all approved by his federal probation officer.

The good-natured, articulate 36-year-old man, whose hijinks began as a teen-ager and gained intensity in his days at Pierce College, once was the FBI's most-wanted hacker. The convicted cyber-bandit led the FBI on a three-year chase from Denver to Seattle before he was apprehended in Raleigh, N.C., in 1995.

Mitnick said he spent those years using various aliases, working on computer systems at a law firm in Denver and on a systems help desk at a hospital in Seattle.

The shy son of a Panorama City waitress said his fascination with technology began at age 11 when he swept the floors and did inventory at Radio Shack in exchange for getting to tinker with their HAM radios.

"I always carried my HAM radio with me," he said. "I wasn't much into social relationships. As a kid, I was overweight. I didn't make friends easy and one of the ways I could talk to people was over the radio. Even today, I still use HAM radio."

One of his attorneys once said Mitnick was addicted to hacking, a comment Mitnick says was a ploy to get him a lighter sentence.

"I don't think I'd classify myself as an addict," he said. "It fed my ego. That's one of the reasons I did it -- for the ego boost. It made me feel good."

Prison memories The downside of that is prison, a place of bad memories where Mitnick said he was held in solitary confinement for eight months.

"They let you out of the cell for an hour a day into another small little area. In short, it's like torture. It's very dirty and grim."

Mitnick said he was kept in solitary because the judge feared he could access computers via the telephone, "lest I launch nuclear missiles by whistling into the phone."

But the upside were his fans, who staged protests at federal courts around the country, sported "Free Kevin" bumper stickers and sent him letters of encouragement, magazines and money to buy items in the prison store.

One friend in Michigan still sends him Faygo Redpop soda in the can, a favorite drink he can't do without.

"I must be crazy to get my soda sent to me from Michigan," he said.