Perks of the job: Me and the new boss spend an evening dining with a lot of security bigwigs and the one and only Kevin Mitnick. Charming guy. Hasty impression: this security gig is an another application of social engineering, I think he appreciates the irony of getting paid to give advice and demonstrations that probably no one is going to act on as they should, corporate security being what it is. Cheerfully doing the "Catch Me If You Can" tie-in with one of his former pursuers. If he were in the securities business, he'd have been dreaming up those phantom round-trip energy trades in California and earning bonuses, or the Dr. Evil bond trading maneuver. We'd be calling him an abitrageur rather than a criminal. The self-justification in the spiel is subtle, but you get it if you listen.
After all, the man never profited from stealing firmware, and laying the costs of firming up security to shut the door again against his account does seem pretty damn unfair. People will just give you the information you say you need to do your job because they know what it's like to be a talented, motivated person stifled by bureaucracy, trying to make the enterprise succeed despite itself. The real hack was exploiting the cultural malaise of corporate America, which can't seem to learn how to align the goals of its people with the goals of its shareholders. That was the main impression I took away, actually: What bad old Mitnick had in common with the security gurus was contempt for the user, an inability to sympathize with the user's point of view. Look at the way the Fed has to force banks to inform people their data has been compromised. We're rubes to these people, too. The truth? You wouldn't know what to do with it. Just shut up and keep on inserting Tab A into Slot B. Never mind the bigger picture, your betters will take care of that.
Sorry, just calling it like I see it.
The slimy part of what he did was taking advantage of people's better impulses and despising them for their gullibility when they were really just coping with the problem of how to maintain pride in their work and solidarity with their colleagues in an environment that conspired against it, that clogged their channels with noise and nonsense until they had no time to think straight. The mushroom treatment, we've all been subjected to it: kept in the dark and fed bullshit. Give people a stake and some real responsibility and they will guard that treasure like it was their family nest egg--because it is. Maybe that's what the "ownership society" really ought to mean.
Still, if the legend of Mitnick is grossly inflated, as he likes to point out--Mitnick in control of nuclear submarines, yeah, right--who can blame him for leveraging it and taking the skim with a wry grin? If you give sound advice and no one heeds it, can you still bill the hour? Of course you can.