The Movie War Games IRL: An Interview With Kevin Mitnick

Salon sat down with Kevin Mitnick, one of the first hackers in the game, to chat about his philosophy on hacking, his thoughts on Anonymous, and how he ended up going to jail for like a million years for purportedly being able to trigger a nuclear emergency by whistling into a phone. Perhaps most interestingly is his perspective on the early days of hacking:

The funny thing is, when I started hacking, it was a different era. In 1980 I was a senior in high school, and I tried to get into computer-science class. One of the first assignments was to write a program to find the first 100 Fibonacci numbers. I thought it would be cooler to get people’s passwords, so I wrote a program that simulated the computer system at school — when students would sign into the computer, they would actually be talking to my program, pretending to be the computer.

Because I was monkeying around with this program for so long, I didn’t get the assignment done. So, I showed the teacher my password-stealing program instead, and I actually got an A. He told the class how cool it was. And these were the ethics taught when I was growing up. Hacking was a cool thing, even stealing passwords. That was kind of how I started. Then, of course, the world changed around me.

By “the world changed around me,” Mitnick of course means, “the world realized that me stealing their passwords was not novel and actually sort of terrifying,” but whatever. It’s a good interview, and it definitely reminds us of the movie War Games, where Matthew Broderick plays tic-tac-toe with a computer, thereby saving the world from nuclear destruction.

-Drew Millard

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