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[ISN] A happy New Year for hacker Mitnick
By Paul Festa
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
December 24, 2002
Christmas came early for notorious computer saboteur Kevin Mitnick.
A former fugitive from justice who wound up serving a five-year prison
term for computer crimes against companies including Sun Microsystems
and Motorola, Mitnick is enjoying a midlife renaissance. In a
wide-ranging interview, the 39-year-old Mitnick discussed brightened
prospects, which include the end of the three-year-long probation that
followed his release from prison, the auctioning off of his
memorabilia on eBay and the launch of a filmmaking venture with
Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey.
Mitnick's holiday gift came courtesy of the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC), which on Monday released a decision that grants
Mitnick his ham radio license renewal after a protracted battle.
Ham radio has been a hobby for Mitnick since he was 13 years old.
While he now uses it primarily to talk to friends, he credits the
hobby with having led to his interest in computer hacking.
"It's...how I first became intoxicated with technology, with figuring
out how things worked," Mitnick said on Tuesday. "Ham radio was all
about communication but also about building radios. I loved taking
things apart and then putting them together."
Mitnick's license came up for renewal in 1999, when he was still
serving a prison sentence for computer fraud, theft and other
convictions. The FCC held up his application until Monday, when it
ruled that Mitnick was sufficiently rehabilitated to deserve the
But the renewal came with a steep price: $16,000 in legal fees,
according to Mitnick.
"It's the most expensive ham license in the world," Mitnick observed.
"But I prevailed."
In its order, the FCC detailed Mitnick's various convictions and
concluded that his rehabilitation was genuine and complete.
"Mr. Mitnick is a convicted felon," reads the decision. "His illegal
activities include the interception of electronic communications,
computer fraud, wire fraud, and damaging computers...He started
hacking as an inquisitive teenager and wound up a disgraced felon...It
is now concluded that Kevin David Mitnick has been sufficiently
rehabilitated to show that he now possesses the requisite character
for the renewal of his licenses in the amateur radio service."
Fund-raising and moviemaking
In order to defray legal costs associated with the FCC fight, Mitnick
in October tried to auction off computers that law enforcement
authorities had seized as evidence and later returned to him. It was
not the first time Mitnick's online auctions had made the news.
Mitnick canceled the computer auctions on eBay, however, citing a
flood of bogus bids.
Since then, Mitnick has listed three new items: a signed galley of The
Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security, the
recent book on computer security Mitnick cowrote with William Simon,
complete with a chapter that didn't make it into the published
version; the computer on which he wrote his share of the book; and his
OKI-900 cell phone.
Mitnick also plans to relist the computers that were seized as
evidence, and will link to those auctions from his Web site.
Should the eBay auctions and book royalties fail to pay his bills,
Mitnick could turn to another potential money-making venture: making
corporate security training films with Hollywood actor Kevin Spacey.
Spacey, who last month launched an online script-solicitation site
called Triggerstreet.com, initially approached Mitnick about making a
movie based on his computer exploits. But under the terms of his plea
bargain, Mitnick is prohibited for seven years from profiting from any
sale of his story.
Instead, Mitnick showed Spacey a screenplay he'd developed for his own
information-security corporate training company, Defensive Thinking.
The film proposed to teach employees how to recognize and resist
so-called social engineering hacking techniques.
"The idea is to show how to prevent the organization from getting
conned," Mitnick said.
Spacey agreed to the proposal, and he and Triggerstreet have
negotiated, but not signed, a deal to coproduce between three and 15
What is Kevin Spacey, who won the Best Actor Oscar for his role in
"American Beauty," doing producing corporate training videos?
Both Triggerstreet and Mitnick portrayed the partnership as the
marriage of high-tech with filmmaking know-how.
"We're going to produce it just like we would a feature film," said
Spacey's business partner Dana Brunetti. "We're going to make sure
that the story is there and shoot it as though it were a 45-minute
film we were going to release in theaters.
"People making training videos for corporations know everything they
need to know about the subject matter, but they don't know what they
need to know about making films. The combination of our knowledge and
(Mitnick's) will be the perfect mold."
Mitnick will appear in the films, but Spacey is not expected to do
more than make a cameo appearance.
Both sides--which will create a joint production company called
Defensive Films--said they were in agreement on the terms of their
partnership and expected to sign a deal within weeks. Brunetti expects
to produce the first film by the spring.
In addition to his auctions and movies and ham radio renewal, Mitnick
is looking forward to the January lifting of fairly severe probation
restrictions he's had to observe since his release from prison on Jan.
21, 2000. Under the terms of a plea agreement, Mitnick has been unable
to use a computer, access the Internet or act as a computer consultant
without the permission of his probation officer.
Mitnick has succeeded in getting that permission for a variety of
activities, including writing the information security book and
testifying before the U.S. Senate and the Commission on National
"In four weeks I'll be free to do whatever I want," Mitnick said.
"Within the law of course."
In recent months, Mitnick has largely relied on his girlfriend, Darci
Wood, to receive and send Internet messages and perform other
computer-related tasks forbidden to him under the terms of his
On her LabMistress.com site, Wood has also kept a detailed Web log, or
blog, which has kept interested readers abreast of her and Mitnick's
"From the server logs we can see that a lot of .gov addresses are
visiting this blog," Mitnick said. "So it looks like my probation
officer doesn't have to do a lot of work to keep track of me."
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