Hacker Kevin Mitnick dies at 59

Kevin Mitnick, a well-known hacker and social engineer who was once among the most sought-after cybercriminals in the world, passed away peacefully at the age of 59 from complications related to pancreatic cancer after a 14-month battle.

Kevin Mitnick dies

His family and top employees at KnowBe4, the security awareness and training business he co-owned and served as a chief hacking officer for, announced Mitnick’s passing.

His wife Kimberley, who is due to give birth to their first child later this year, is his sole surviving family member.

Kevin was a close friend to many of us at KnowBe4 and to me. Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of KnowBe4 said, “Kevin was just a beautiful human being and he will be dearly missed. He is certainly a luminary in the development of the cybersecurity business.

The most well-known hacker in the world, according to many who knew him, Mitnick was renowned for his technological prowess, wit, humor, and an unmatched capacity for social engineering.

At the age of 12, Mitnick, who was raised in a suburb of Los Angeles, had his first experience with social engineering and the idea of hacking when he persuaded a LA bus driver to tell him where he could get a mechanical ticket punching device, which he then used to ride buses for free all over the city after discovering unused transfer slips that the bus company had thrown out.

By the end of the 1970s, Mitnick had mastered the fading “art” of phone phreaking and had moved on to hacking computer networks. At the age of 16, he gained access to the network of the first microcomputer manufacturer, Digital Equipment Corporation, which would later join Compaq and HP, and stole its operating system software.

Some years later, in 1988, Kevin Mitnick was eventually tried and found guilty of this first cyberattack. After serving 12 months in jail, he was released under supervision for three years. He said that he broke into Pacific Bell’s computer systems at the end of his time of supervised release to carry out counter-surveillance of the phone company’s monitoring of him on behalf of US law enforcement.

A warrant for Mitnick’s arrest was issued as a result of this behavior, and he subsequently fled. He was captured in South Carolina in February 1995 after a two-year manhunt during which it was claimed he had committed many hacking offenses.

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He was ultimately accused of many charges of computer damage and wire fraud, as well as having devices that allow for unauthorized access, intercepting wire or electronic communications, and accessing a federal computer without authorization.

Mitnick has consistently denied the accusations that he was a malevolent online criminal and has insisted that the mainstream media has misrepresented him. In a 2003 article for The Register, Mitnick said that while being “a pain in the ass” to some, he had never deleted, revealed, or otherwise utilized any data that he had gained access to.

Many of the allegations, according to his supporters, who organized the well-known Free Kevin movement on his behalf, were allegedly made up or at least fraudulently obtained. Famously, during his detention, a federal court was persuaded that Mitnick could launch a nuclear missile by whistling, hacking into US military systems—a completely improbable scenario that yet landed him eight months in solitary prison.

In the end, however, Mitnick did enter a guilty plea on a variety of counts as part of a plea agreement and was sentenced to 46 months in prison in addition to an additional 22 months for breaking the terms of his prior supervised release. He was released on January 21st, 2000, after serving more than four years previous to his trial, and was only permitted to use a landline phone.

After being freed, Mitnick established his security firm and rose to success as a consultant, author, and speaker. He also frequently appeared at conferences on cyber security and was well-respected for his work as an educator and pundit. He wrote numerous books, was the subject of others, and appeared in the 2000 film Takedown as a character played by Skeet Urich (The Craft, Scream, As Good As It Gets).

More recently, after joining up with KnowBe4, he created the Kevin Mitnick Security Awareness Training (KMSAT) security education package, distilling his knowledge into one of the company’s most well-liked product lines.

On August 1, 2023, a memorial service will be held in Las Vegas, where Mitnick will be laid to rest next to his mother and grandmother. In due course, more information, including specifics regarding virtual attendance for friends and coworkers, will be disclosed.

The US National Pancreas Foundation or the Equal Justice Initiative will receive donations in Kevin Mitnick’s honor thanks to the family’s arrangements.

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