Government Payback

After his release from prison, Mitnick had few prospects - he wasn't allowed to use a computer for three years - and no real ideas of how he could make an honest living. Out of the blue, Joe Lieberman, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, and Fred Thompson, then a Republican senator from Tennessee, invited him to testify before their committee on how to improve the government's computer security. Though usually they are very dry, sober affairs, Mitnick made his appearance before the Senate panel entertaining, engaging in friendly and humorous exchanges with the senators.

People must have been watching C-SPAN that day. "People saw that and said, 'Hey, I want this guy to speak.' And that's how I started my career, thanks to the U.S. government," he says. Mitnick began giving lectures all around the world and has since written two books (The Art of Intrusion and The Art of Deception) and become a much-sought-after security consultant. His checkered background doesn't seem to deter employers. "If you think about it, a guy like that has everything to lose. He's already under a microscope, so if he does something stupid, he's done forever," says Connor Haggerty, controller for Food Industry Services, a consortium of Midwestern grocery stores that hired Mitnick to do some security work and give a speech.

Mitnick is looking forward to releasing his memoir in 2007, something he hadn't been able to do before because one of the conditions of his release from prison was that he not be allowed to profit from his life story for seven years. And in case there's any doubt whether Mitnick has fully joined the ranks of regular folks, there is this: The great hacker himself had his identity stolen a couple of years ago. "The only thing that went through my mind was, 'Why didn't they steal my identity 10 years ago?'?" he says. "That would have been poetic."