[ISN] Mitnick speaks! A rare Q & A with Kevin Mitnick

From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Tue Apr 06 1999 - 00:21:50 PDT

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    Forwarded From: William Knowles <erehwonat_private>
    By Adam L. Penenberg
    Forbes Digital Tool 4-5-99
    Kevin Mitnick is the most famous hacker in history. He has been in prison
    for more than four years for crimes that, when you get down to it, amount
    to little more than illegally copying proprietary software belonging to
    major companies including Motorola, Nokia and Sun.
    He was made a household name by New York Times reporter John Markoff, who
    featured Mitnick in a book called Cyberpunk (published in 1991), then
    wrote a front page story for the Times on July 4, 1994, that portrayed
    Mitnick as a superhacker who could wreak cyberhavoc--and ruin lives--if
    not caught by the Feds.
    Then a funny thing happened. Markoff's friend, Tsutomu Shimomura, claimed
    that Mitnick had hacked his home computer on Christmas Day, 1994, and went
    after him, with Markoff in tow. When Shimomura tracked Mitnick down in
    North Carolina, Markoff was there for the kill. This was documented in
    subsequent front-page stories and a book called Takedown, for which
    Markoff and Shimomura shared a $750,000 advance. Expect the movie version
    Markoff became a journalism star as a result of his crusade.  Shimomura's
    name, in the ultimate geek tribute, is recognized by Microsoft Word98
    spell check. Not even Sherlock Holmes can say that.
    Yet, according to Dale Coddington and Brian Martin, both of whom were
    hired by the defense to comb through the 9 gigabytes of electronic
    evidence amassed against Mitnick, there is no proof that Mitnick hacked
    Shimomura. For all the fanfare it received, it was never contained in the
    indictment. Yet, the media coverage has had a profound impact on Mitnick's
    Mitnick reads everything written about him and says he often can’t believe
    what he reads. He has seen himself portrayed as a "dark side" hacker
    intent on toppling civilization; a criminal who as a teenager penetrated
    computers at NORAD, inspiring the hit flick War Games; a phone phreaker
    who, just by whistling three tones into a telephone receiver, could launch
    World War III; and a computer hacker who, merely armed with a computer
    sans modem, could wreak cyberhavoc from his jail cell. 
    But the reality is a lot less sexy. Kevin Mitnick is a recreational hacker
    with a compulsive-obsessive relationship to information. He hoarded
    information, never sold it, and wouldn’t even share it with his friends. 
    Although he is portrayed in the upcoming film Takedown as an evil menace
    to society, Mitnick is really just your average geek who has done some bad
    things in his life, and has paid the price. To this day, he would like
    nothing more than to dissect some computer program to see how it works.
    Says Martin, who often visited Mitnick in prison, "Kevin still wants to
    look through cellular source code to see how it works. You can see it in
    his eyes that he'd love to kick back with a printout and just figure it
    out on his own."
    Mitnick doesn’t trust the media. But he agreed to let Forbes interview him
    over a span of several evenings recently by telephone.
    Here is Kevin Mitnick in his own words: 
    Forbes.com [F]: How would you characterize the media coverage of you? 
    Mitnick [M]: When I read about myself in the media even I don't recognize
    me. The myth of Kevin Mitnick is much more interesting than the reality of
    Kevin Mitnick. If they told the reality, no one would care. 
    [F} Have stories that John Markoff wrote about you in The New York Times
    had any impact on your legal proceedings?
    [M} Markoff has single-handedly created "The Myth of Kevin Mitnick," 
    which everyone is using to advance their own agendas. I wasn't a hacker
    for the publicity. I never hacked for personal gain. If I was some unknown
    hacker, accused of copying programs from cell phone companies, I wouldn't
    be here. Markoff's printing false and defamatory material about me on the
    front page of The New York Times had a substantial effect on my case and
    reputation. He's the main reason I'm still in custody.
    [F] The Times continues to report (most recently on March 18) that you had
    hacked NORAD. Is this true?
    [M] No way, no how did I break into NORAD. That's a complete myth. And I
    never attempted to access anything considered to be classified government
    [F] What do you think about hacks done in your name--for instance, last
    September's hack of The New York Times web site. Do they further your
    [M] I don't condone anyone causing damage in my name, or doing anything
    malicious in support of my plight. There are more productive ways to help
    me. As a hacker myself, I never intentionally damaged anything.
    [F] How have you spent most of your time in prison? 
    [M] Most people here are content watching TV, playing pinochle, dominoes
    and poker. I work on my defense 14 hours a day.
    [F] What do you think of the restrictions placed on you when you get out
    of prison as part of your plea agreement? 
    [M] The requirements mandating I can't touch a computer or cell or
    cordless phone are akin to telling a forger not to use a pen or paper.
    There is no way I can earn a living when I get out. I couldn't even work
    at McDonald's. All I could do is something like gardening.
    [F] What do you plan on doing when you get out of prison? 
    [M] "I don't know, but once I get out of here and get on with the rest of
    my life, I'll never intentionally violate the law." 
    What do you think about Kevin Mitnick? Let us know in our forum. 
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