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Kevin Mitnick Back Online
Famous hacker rejoins 'Net community
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At one second after midnight, on January 21, 2003, the world's most notorious hacker, Kevin Mitnick, was free to log onto the Internet for the first time since his arrest nearly eight years previous. Kevin's imprisonment launched a Free Kevin movement on the Internet and the unusually restrictive terms of his probation seemed to garner further sympathy for his plight. Why did so many rally to champion his cause?

Acknowledging that he has been portrayed as the "Hannibal Lector of cyberspace", Mitnick tells a bit about himself in Chapter One: Kevin's Story. The publication is a chapter rejected by the publishers of Mitnick's new book, The Art of Deception. In the missing Chapter One, Kevin claims his "treatment by the federal government was based not on the crimes, but on making an example of me". Indeed, he tells a compelling and scary saga of blank search warrants, solitary confinement, and Constitutional atrocities - even his right to a bail hearing was denied. Kevin served an incredible four and a half years without ever having been sentenced and without so much as a single hearing for bail. All this for activities he describes as pranks, tinkering, and curiosity. Though he eventually confessed, presumably under duress, to causing between $5 and $10 million in losses, companies allegedly affected by his hacking never claimed those losses to the SEC. These alleged victims were either in violation of Federal law, which requires such reporting, or, as Kevin points out, "the losses attributable to my hacking were, in fact, too trivial to be reported."

Mitnick's antics were brought into public scrutiny on July 4th, 1994 when reporter John Markoff exposed him in an article published on the first page of the New York Times. What wasn't disclosed in the article was the fact that Markoff himself had a previous relationship with the hacker. According to Mitnick, the New York Times reporter had first contacted him in the late 80s, asking for his participation in an upcoming book about hackers. Mitnick refused. Despite his alleged refusal, Markoff included him anyway. After Markoff's book, Cyberpunk, was released in 1991, Mitnick proclaims Hollywood producers approached him about making a movie based on the book. Mitnick says he again refused. It is the refusal to participate in the movie deal, and subsequent loss of income opportunity to Markoff, that Mitnick alleges fueled Markoff's later articles. Mitnick chillingly notes, "...John Markoff changed the world's perception of the danger I represented. The power of one unethical reporter from such an influential newspaper to write a false and defamatory story about anyone should haunt each and every one of us. The next target might be you."

The Times' article also failed to mention that Markoff had been collaborating with Tsutomu Shimomura since January of that year. Shimomura, also a hacker, was responsible for eventually tracing Mitnick's whereabouts to Raleigh, NC. Shimomura even flew to North Carolina to assist federal authorities in pinpointing the exact location of Mitnick, all the while keeping in close contact with reporter Markoff. A third omission by Markoff was his failure to mention that he had himself been a victim of Mitnick's hacks.

Though Markoff's supporters deny the

"So John Markoff got a million dollars, more or less, and I got five years." -- Kevin Mitnick

hidden facts affected his objectivity and Mitnick supporters question how it could not, before the ink had dried on Kevin's arrest warrant in February 1995, Markoff had released a new book, Takedown: The Pursuit and Capture of America's Most Wanted Computer Outlaw (with Tsutomu Shimomura). In a Salon interview that same year, Markoff publicly acknowledged a conflict of interest and, when asked whether Mitnick was really a threat, stated, "Was Kevin Mitnick a national menace? No way. Was this a good yarn? I think so." And though Markoff denies being involved with "myth creation", he also acknowledges that he was responsible for branding Mitnick as "Cyberspace's Most Wanted". As Mitnick wryly notes, "So John Markoff got a million dollars, more or less, and I got five years."

Of course, Kevin is a self-proclaimed expert of social engineering and highly skilled in the art of deception. And John Markoff is a highly skilled journalist with persuasive writing skills. Was Mitnick markoffed for John's profit? Or are we being conned? And if so, by whom?

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