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Hacked out

National | Famous computer hacker Kevin Mitnick is released from probation

Issue: "30 years of destruction," Jan. 18, 2003

The world's most notorious computer hacker regains unfettered Internet access this month. Once Kevin Mitnick's probation expires on Jan. 20, he will no longer need permission to use computers. He says he'll work on the right side of the law from now on.

Mr. Mitnick wants to start a computer security company that will help other companies protect themselves from computer attacks. "I have a knack for circumventing security," he told the Los Angeles Times. "I figured I could make a contribution to the world by using that expertise to help."

Mr. Mitnick's exploits created a subculture of admirers and inspired several books. Prosecutors say he altered data and stole software from some of America's most prominent high-tech companies. He allegedly caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to Motorola, Novell, Nokia, Sun Microsystems, and others.

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He led the FBI on a three-year manhunt that ended in 1995. His elusiveness, combined with his technical skill and cult following, made him a particularly slippery suspect.

But he was caught, and he served five years in federal prison. His probation agreement limited his travel, employment, and kept him away from anything with an Internet connection. Even cell phones were forbidden. When he wrote a book about cybercrime, The Art of Deception, he had to receive special permission to type the manuscript on a computer.

Mr. Mitnick attributes his new ways to maturity: "I grew out of my hacking. Now I'm 38. There are no 38-year-old hackers out there."

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