One Year Ago: Commit a Cybercrime? You’re Hired!


Originally published on July 17, 2000 and brought to you today as a time capsule.


Because notorious cybercriminal Kevin Mitnick is barred under the terms of his plea agreement from touching a computer — much less a computer connected to the Internet — he is going to need some help submitting the online column he has been hired to write for Contentville.com.

But what’s an extra personal assistant or two for a Web writer? Mitnick has finally received official approval of his request to take a few jobs in the high-tech industry, even if it means he has to navigate some rather ridiculous waters to get the job done.

Perhaps he could write an article about living life entirely without the Internet, an article about his experiences in a no-tech world the polar opposite of the world inhabited by the DotComGuy. That’s the guy who legally changed his name to the name of his Web site, and starting on January 1, 2000 secluded himself in a house to live totally off the Internet.

Mitnick’s lawyer praised the probation office’s recent move because it was an 180-degree reversal of its prior decision refusing the former hacker’s request to work in the computer industry. The reversal of fortune came only after Mitnick obtained a court ruling that the office must review the particular job offers Mitnick has on his plate, rather than applying blanket restrictions.

Go Ahead

Mitnick got the go-ahead to work not only as a Web writer, but also as a computer security consultant and a lecturer on high-tech topics. How much Mitnick has to offer his employers, when he has been offline for so long and can’t even use a PC, is not the pressing question here.

According to reports, Mitnick has turned his life around 180 degrees as well. He supposedly no longer wants to commit cybercrimes. Without access to a computer, of course, he can only commit cybercrimes in his dreams, so his true level of rehabilitation is not the question either.

From Limbo to Ladder

Also according to reports, the 36-year-old Mitnick felt that he was stuck in limbo until he was allowed to go back to work. Certainly Mitnick should be able to hold a job and have a so-called “normal life” after serving his time in prison. That’s not the point either. The issue presented by all of the hacker turned security consultant cases is whether a life of cybercrime should lead to high-tech job offers.

Perhaps Mitnick can complete his new jobs with style and expertise. He will certainly need his employer’s assistance publishing online columns because his hands are virtually tied.

But should destructive computer invasion be just another step up the corporate ladder?

Hackers’ Invite

The companies offering jobs to hackers are extending dinner invitations to the very people who just broke in and ransacked the house. The damage caused by Mitnick’s hacking break-ins at Motorola, Sun Microsystems, NEC and Novell — where he stole software, product plans and other data — was initially estimated at US$80 million.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) supervisory special agent Charles Neal told the E-Commerce Times, that “When we talk about computer crime, we mean crimes related to fraudulent computer intrusion as defined in the U.S. Code. I liken it to the equivalent of breaking and entering, but into a computer instead of a house or business.”

Giving Back the ‘Love’

Not every intruder wants to make hacking into a form of New Age job training. According to reports, Onel de Guzman, the Philippine college student accused of unleashing the “ILOVEYOU” virus, recently turned down several high-tech job offers on the advice of his mother and his lawyer.

Guzman has been charged with theft and other crimes relating to the Love Bug, which took down e-mail systems around the world in May. Estimates of the damage caused by the virus hover around $10 billion. Guzman said he might have released the virus by accident, but refused to say whether he authored it.

Lucky Break

The hacker or hackers behind February’s denial-of-service (DoS) attacks on Yahoo!, eBay, and Amazon have not been caught or punished. So they are still below the job-offer radar. Yet, if and when the criminals behind the DoS attacks are brought to justice, high-tech companies should not think their high-tech feats will make them good employees.

There are other qualified workers out there. The dot-com shakeout has put thousands out of work in recent months. Moreover — and this is the point — the latest epidemic of teen hacker cases indicates that Mitnick and his kind are cult heroes for today’s tech-savvy kids.

Unless the technology industry stops rewarding cybercriminals with employment offers, more and more teens are going to join the cybercrime underground. Because their hacker role models are able to become security consultants and writers, teens are not being adequately deterred from unlawfully breaking into computers and causing even more damage.

Some of the hacker teens recently on the parade include Canada’s ‘Mafiaboy’ who is being charged in connection with the CNN.com DoS attack in February, and the Wichita, Kansas teens who recently hacked into AOL to get member credit card numbers so they could buy video games.

Another teen in the line-up turned himself in to Long Island police Tuesday for allegedly hacking into two NASA computers.

Circuitry Lecture

Commit a crime, do time. The maxim is inherently logical. Nowadays, however, what Generation Y kids are hearing is: Commit a cybercrime, do time on the lecture circuit.

And the twisted logic for high-tech employers has become: You’re a big-time hacker, you probably know a lot about this stuff, so you’re hired and let’s get to work.

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