Crime may not pay, but an online auction of the two laptops used to hack major corporations could garner convicted cybercriminal Kevin Mitnick a tidy sum.
In an effort to help finance a legal battle to regain his ham radio operator's license, the one-time hacker is auctioning on eBay the two Toshiba Satellite notebook computers seized by law enforcement officers.
"These were the laptops used to hack into companies and (security researcher) Shimomura's computers," Mitnick told CNET News.com on Wednesday. Tsutomu Shimomura, a senior fellow at the San Diego Supercomputer Center, helped track down Mitnick in 1995 after the hacker broke into the computer scientist's server the prior year.
The two laptops definitely reflect their age and their tour through the court system.
The first laptop, seized in the February 1995 raid that captured the notorious hacker, has been on the block since Sept. 26. The Toshiba Satellite computer comes with a 486DX processor, 4MB of RAM and a 200MB hard drive in addition to a copy of Windows 95 that has recently been installed. Bidding on the machine reached $9,200 by midday Wednesday.
The second laptop, taken by Seattle police in a raid near the University of Washington that failed to capture Mitnick, went on sale Tuesday. Sporting an Intel 486SX processor, the second Toshiba Satellite's off-white case is marked with dust used to lift fingerprints.
Before shipping the laptop to its new owner, Mitnick plans to install Windows 3.1.1, the operating system he used in 1994. Its auction price was $6,000 Wednesday afternoon.
Both laptops were returned to Mitnick by the FBI in June and have been signed by Mitnick as well as by Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Computer. They come with a copy of the FBI evidence form listing the make, model and serial numbers of the computers.
On the case
Mitnick stressed that friends are handling all details of the auction because he is prevented, under the terms of his supervised release, from getting online until January 2004.
Ebay user "Metism," a 28-year-old Chicago resident, said in an e-mail to CNET News.com that he bid for the computer because it represented the "triumph of technological innovation over corporate interests."
While he doesn't support criminal activity, "Metism" believes that Mitnick was unjustly targeted by authorities. "From the naturally limited and incomplete information I have about his case, his constitutional rights were violated," he said.
Many others have expressed similar doubts about the FBI's case against Mitnick, spawning an active "Free Kevin" movement that attempted to get the charges against the hacker dropped.
Released from prison in January 2000 after serving nearly five years on seven felony charges of computer intrusion, Mitnick now hosts a radio show, has co-authored a book on social engineering and has created a company, Defensive Thinking, aimed at educating companies about security.
Mitnick caused a stir two years ago when he started auctioning off other personal items, including a cell phone and his prison ID card. He also found himself back in court to fight for his right to speak and write about technology.
The latest move to make money won't win him any friends at the Department of Justice, he said, but he's not breaking any of the terms of his supervised release.
"They won't be happy," he said. "But my case is, what, seven years old? Hopefully, they have moved on to more pressing things."
Mitnick's book The Art of Deception, co-authored with William Simon, will go on sale on Friday.