A Hacker For Fun, Not Profit

Most-Wanted Computer Criminal To Go Free

[60 Minutes will rebroadcast its profile of Kevin Mitnick this Sunday, May 21. The report first aired in January 2000.]

Kevin Mitnick shows little remorse, considering he is estimated by authorities to have caused hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to blue chip companies whose computer systems he hacked.

He does not consider himself a thief for copying secret files, stealing passwords and conning company workers because it was just a fun hobby he didn't profit from, Mitnick tells 60 Minutes' Ed Bradley in his first interview.

The interview with Mitnick, once the FBI's most wanted computer criminal, will be broadcast Sunday, Jan. 23, on 60 Minutes.

Mitnick leaves a federal prison in California on Jan. 21 after serving five years for fraud convictions related to hacking into the computer systems of companies including Sun Microsystems, Motorola, and Qualcomm.

He believes what he did was "a gross invasion of privacy" but not stealing. "I was an accomplished computer trespasser. I don't consider myself a thief," he tells an incredulous Bradley, who counters that it was stealing. "I copied without permission," retorts Mitnick.

Another part of Mitnick's rationale is that it was all for fun and not profit. "I saw myself as an electronic joy rider," he says about the dozens of computer break-ins he perpetrated on some of the world's most secure computer systems. "I was like James Bond behind the computer," says Mitnick. "I was just having a blast."

Part of the "blast" was how easy it was and, sometimes, how loaded with irony. Exploiting a flaw in the computer system of Novell, the computer software design company, enabled Mitnick to breech the company's security computer fire wall in "a few minutes," he says. To steal the source codes for two of Motorola's most advanced cell phones, he merely conned someone over the phone into emailing it to him - a heist that took just 15 minutes on his cell phone.

Mitnick did not sell or trade the information he stole; he took it simply because he could. "There was no end. It was a hobby in itself," he tells Bradley. "It would be quite easy to become a millionaire," says Mitnick. "I could have simply accessed the computers of law firms that do acquisitions and mergers and traded on the information. I could have transferred funds," he says. "It was just a big game to me."

But it was no game to the man trying to catch him, Federal Prosecutor Chris Painter. He says Mitnick caused millions of dollars in damages. "That's not a prankster," says Painter.