Kevin Mitnick, a renowned figure in the history of cybersecurity, passed away over the weekend at 59 after bravely fighting pancreatic cancer for more than a year, as reported in a published obituary by his family.
Mitnick’s name became synonymous with hacking adventures before his demise on July 16. His exploits were so legendary that they inspired multiple films, with the first being “WarGames,” featuring Matthew Broderick. This movie was partly based on claims that Mitnick, as a teenager, had successfully hacked into the computer systems of North American Aerospace Defense Command. However, he always denied any involvement in such actions.
During his restless curiosity-driven journey, Mitnick faced consequences when he was arrested in 1988 for stealing $1 million worth of proprietary software from Digital Equipment Corporation. He received a one-year prison sentence and three years of probation. However 1995, a new arrest warrant was issued for violating his probation. Consequently, Mitnick went on the run, breaking into the computer systems of various corporations, cell phone companies, and educational institutions, as mentioned in the federal indictment against him.
Throughout his escapades, Mitnick and his defenders maintained that he meant no harm and wasn’t driven by financial motives. He insisted that he was an old-school hacker, motivated purely by intellectual curiosity. Nevertheless, federal authorities were deeply concerned about his capabilities. During his incarceration in 1995, Mitnick revealed that he had been kept in solitary confinement out of fear that even access to a telephone could enable him to continue hacking.
In 1999, Mitnick reached a plea deal with federal prosecutors, admitting to seven criminal counts, including wire fraud and causing damage to computers. The agreement resulted in a 46-month prison sentence and a prohibition from employment in any capacity granting him access to computers or related equipment during his probation. However, due to credit for time served, he was released in 2000.
Mitnick shared his hacking experiences in a memoir titled “Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker,” published in 2011.
After his time in prison, Mitnick transformed into a white-hat hacker, using his legal expertise to help businesses track potential security breaches. Over the last decade, he served as the chief hacking officer and partially owned the tech security firm KnowBe4, founded by his close friend and business partner, Stu Sjouwerman.
In a 2005 interview with CNN, Mitnick expressed remorse for his mistakes in his youth and his gratitude for being given a second chance. He acknowledged that he was fortunate to employ his skills for the betterment of the community.
Stu Sjouwerman, speaking on behalf of KnowBe4, fondly remembered Mitnick as a dear friend and a luminary in the cybersecurity industry. He emphasized Mitnick’s exceptional character and the immense loss his passing represents.
A memorial service for Kevin Mitnick is scheduled for August 1 in Las Vegas, according to his company. He is survived by his wife Kimberley, who is expecting their first child, as announced by the family.