Convicted computer hacker Kevin Mitnick is scheduled to be released from prison today after spending nearly five years in incarceration for stealing software from such companies as Sun Microsystems Inc. and Motorola Inc.
Mitnick’s release caps the legal odyssey of a Southern California native who became one of the most notorious hackers in history after leading the FBI on a two-year, cross-country chase during the early 1990s.
Mitnick, 36, was finally captured in a North Carolina apartment in 1995, and spent the next four years awaiting trial until he pleaded guilty in March in federal court in Los Angeles to seven computer crime and fraud charges.
Under terms of his supervised release, Mitnick will not be allowed to use a computer or many other high-tech devices for the next three years. Even so, some computer security experts are urging companies and government agencies to be on alert.
“We are urging our customers to be extra diligent in monitoring activities on their corporate networks for the next few days,” said David Remnitz, chief executive of IFSec, a New York-based computer security firm.
Remnitz said his main worry is that there will be a burst of hacking activity by Mitnick supporters, who in recent years have defaced a number of government and corporate Web sites in Mitnick’s name.
“Mitnick still has a tremendous following in the computer underground,” Remnitz said, “and anything that gives them reason to celebrate gives us reason for concern.”
Mitnick, a native of Panorama City, is expected to move in with his father, Alan Mitnick, who lives in Westlake Village and owns a construction company. Kevin Mitnick served the final portion of his 54-month sentence at a federal prison in Lompoc, Calif.
Members of Mitnick’s family could not be reached for comment. But Kimberly Tracey, a freelance writer who frequently speaks with Mitnick by phone, said he is upbeat yet apprehensive about his release.
“He’s a little nervous about what he’s going to do, where he’s going to find work,” said Tracey, of Marina del Rey. “He’s just looking forward to getting on with his life.”
She said she and other supporters planned to travel to Lompoc to greet Mitnick when he is released.
Media interest in Mitnick remains high. A Miramax film about his capture is expected to air on television or be released on video this year.
Mitnick also will appear on an upcoming edition of “60 Minutes,” in which he tells the television news show that he saw himself as an “electronic joy rider.”
“I was an accomplished computer trespasser,” Mitnick says in the interview, according to CBS. “I don’t consider myself a thief. I copied without permission.”
Mitnick, who once claimed that hacking was an addiction, has had virtually no exposure to the Internet or modern technology since his capture. He will not be allowed to pursue employment where he would have access to a computer, but is obligated to begin making payments to companies he victimized.
Federal prosecutors accused him of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of software.
But Mitnick, who appears never to have profited from his hacking exploits, will be required to repay just $4,125 because authorities regard his earning potential as limited.