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Security / Tech Culture

Kevin Mitnick: A Hacker Hero Has Died

Kevin Mitnick, who died at 59 on Sunday from pancreatic cancer, began his career as a criminal hacker and ended as the best-known white-hat hacker.
Jul 20th, 2023 10:56am by
Featued image for: Kevin Mitnick: A Hacker Hero Has Died
Feature image of Kevin Mitnick (2010) by Eneas De TroyaCC BY 2.0.  Internal image (2010) by  Campus Party México, CC BY 2.0. 

Kevin Mitnick’s career began as a criminal hacker but ended too soon as the best-known white-hat hacker.

I didn’t know Mitnick, the renowned hacker and cybersecurity expert, well. But I did know him well enough to know he was brilliant. However, I’ve been blessed to know many bright people. But, I’ve known few whose life was a testament to the transformative power of second chances and the potential for redemption. His journey from notorious hacker to respected cybersecurity consultant was as remarkable as it was inspiring.

Born on August 6, 1963, in Van Nuys, California, Mitnick developed a fascination with technology began an early age. He was just 12 when he executed his first hack, manipulating the Los Angeles bus punch card system to ride for free. His exploits escalated from there, culminating in a series of high-profile hacks that made him a wanted man.

Mitnick’s hacking activities in the 1980s and 1990s were legendary. He breached the systems of some of the biggest corporations, including Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), IBM, Motorola, and Nokia. As a teenager, he became famous for infiltrating the North American Defense Command (NORAD). This episode would foreshadow the movie War Games. These exploits earned him a place on the FBI’s Most Wanted list, leading to his arrest in 1995.

After serving five years in prison, Mitnick emerged with a new purpose. He leveraged his deep understanding of hacking to become a leading voice in cybersecurity. He founded Mitnick Security Consulting. There he used his unique insights to help businesses protect themselves from the threats he once posed. In 2011, he became the Chief Hacking Officer and part owner of the security awareness training company KnowBe4. He also spent much of his time working with his Global Ghost Team, an elite pen-testing team

Mitnick was also a prolific author, penning several books on cybersecurity, including “The Art of Invisibility” and “Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker.” These works have become essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the mind of a hacker and the vulnerabilities of our interconnected world.

Mitnick was widely respected in the tech community despite, or perhaps because of, his past. His transformation from a symbol of cyber menace to a beacon of cybersecurity knowledge was a testament to his resilience and adaptability. He was a frequent speaker at tech conferences, where he shared his experiences and insights, always with a sense of humor and a twinkle in his eye.

His passing is a significant loss to the cybersecurity community. His contributions to the field, unique insights, and relentless advocacy for better security practices have left an indelible mark. Kevin Mitnick’s legacy will continue to influence and inspire future generations of cybersecurity professionals.

Mitnick, who died of pancreatic cancer on Sunday, July 16, 2023, leaves behind his beloved wife, Kimberley Mitnick, and their unborn first child. His family asks for donations to be made in his memory to The National Pancreas Foundation or The Equal Justice Initiative.

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