Mitnick: Right. Now it's only seen as malicious, [although] there are a lot of
different characterizations. Like you characterize a person as a cracker rather than a
hacker -- because that's the one that breaks into a system, and I don't consider them
[a hacker]. I really don't think I ever was the malicious hacker, and by malicious I
mean wanting to cause anybody harm or trying to profit. I broke the law and was
definitely mischievous. ... I don't think it's clear what the definitions are today.
But I can tell you that whether it's the "I Love You" worm or breaking into Microsoft
or snooping in your girlfriend's e-mail account, it's all going to be considered
hacking by the mainstream media. Therefore, it becomes a problem.
InfoWorld: Does a hacker really have the opportunity to explain his or her
intentions, or is it perceived as a black-and-white issue?
Mitnick: Yes, in magazines and stories. I was labeled on the front page of The
New York Times as breaking into NORAD and wiring the FBI, and I never did those
things. I was never accused by the government or prosecuted or convicted on any of
those things. Yet The New York Times claimed it as fact, and that is probably
one of the biggest reasons why I sat in prison for four and a half years without a
trial. I became the poster boy, and a lot of it was because of the image. People wanted
to make money off of my coattails. You know my argument is yes, I broke the law and I
deserved to be punished, but my case was really taken to the extreme. When I was in
prison, they put me in solitary confinement at one point because they said I could
launch missiles by whistling into a telephone. They told that to a judge. And then, the
other time, they put me in solitary confinement for a week because they thought I could
take my AM/FM Walkman that you can buy in the prison commissary and turn it into a bug
and break out of jail and bug the warden's office or something. They actually thought I
was going to make a transmitter out of it. I don't know where they got the idea --
maybe one of the prison officials watched McGyver. But that's how ridiculous it
was, and I'm kind of bitter over that experience because of the stupidity.
InfoWorld: How have things changed since the initial arrest and your incarceration?
Mitnick: The explosion of the Internet for one. Since I was incarcerated, the
Internet wasn't like it is today. With all the research the government and
universities use now, [the Net] is just a conduit for doing business. Now people can
get a global market share and at the same time reduce their costs. With business
partners and customers and suppliers and all this sort of thing, now security has moved
to the top of the list of importance.