Kevin Mitnick, 59, was a hacker who became the subject of a protracted manhunt by the FBI in the early 1990s and is considered the country’s most notorious cybercriminal. But then he profitably turned to a career as a cybersecurity consultant. He passed away on July 16.
Kevin Mitnick’s Cause of Death
The cause of death was announced as pancreatic cancer by Kathy Wattman, spokesperson for KnowBe4, a safety training company where Kevin Mitnick works.
World’s Most Wanted Hacker
Kevin Mitnick has branded himself as “the world’s most famous hacker,” and that’s what KnowBe4 called him in a statement Thursday. As the World Wide Web began to gain global adoption, it hacked into the computer systems of companies like Motorola, Nokia, and Sun Microsystems, causing millions of dollars in losses, prosecutors claim.
Before the age of 30, Kevin Mitnick had already served a short sentence for computer crimes. However, his reputation as a hacker was cemented when the FBI detained him in a North Carolina apartment in the middle of the night in 1995. This was a large-scale raid after 24 hours of surveillance outside his home that ended his life on the run for more than two years.
The security forces eventually found him with the help of Tsutomu Shimomura, a cybersecurity expert who says his computer was hacked by Kevin Mitnick. In a hearing held after his detention, Kevin Mitnick is said to have turned to Shimomura to respect his skills.
In 1999, Kevin Mitnick pleaded guilty to a series of wire fraud and other cybercrimes. He was sentenced to five years in prison. After his release in 2000, he was banned from using the internet without the government’s permission, given his time in custody, and he regained this right only after a long struggle with the authorities.
Following his release, Kevin Mitnick has become a polarizing but regular presence in the cybersecurity community. He portrayed himself as a misunderstood “genius” and pioneer, and some of his supporters said he fell victim to his overzealous following and exaggerated media coverage. Fans who showed solidarity with him held protests in more than fourteen cities in support of him and affixed yellow “Free Kevin” stickers to their cars after he was detained.
A group calling for his release placed pornographic photographs on its homepage while shutting down the New York Times’ website for several hours in 1998.
The US Department of Justice has described him as a “computer terrorist” and critics say he has tarnished the reputation of professionals for a new internet industry.
It was unclear whether Kevin Mitnick made significant financial gains from cybercrime, but he had the opportunity to do so. “My motivation was the pursuit of knowledge, intellectual challenge, excitement and escape from reality,” he told a Senate committee a few months after his release from custody.
The 2000 movie “Track Down” starring Skeet Ulrich as Kevin Mitnick was based on his life story. The film is based on a 1996 book by Shimomura and Times reporter John Markoff, which chronicles Kevin Mitnick’s criminal adventure filled with stolen credit card numbers and corporate trade secrets. (Kevin Mitnick expressed disapproval of the book.)
Most of his hacking in the 1990s focused on social engineering, the act of tricking people into revealing confidential information, while others had done most of the technical work for him.
The Life of Kevin Mitnick
Kevin David Mitnick was born on August 6, 1963. Growing up in Los Angeles, he was a perpetually bored kid in his childhood, manipulating bus tickets to get around the city for free and performing magic tricks that helped fool people.
He hacked into the North American Air Defense Command computer as a young teenager and began to fall under the radar of federal law enforcement agencies in his 20s.
By the time he was arrested, the world was mostly adjusting to the internet, and public perception of hackers was changing from university professors and researchers to individuals like thieves, scammers, and rising internet activists.
Ethical boundaries were often blurred in this new environment, as detective former federal computer crime prosecutor Mark Rasch studied Kevin Mitnick. Mitnick’s crimes sometimes revealed ambiguities in the law, he said.
“He was a hero for the Internet. In a way, he liberated data, liberated information, and just there was an idea that thought hacking proved how to do it,” he said. “There was a group of people in the hacker defense community who saw it as the worst thing in the world, and there were people in the hacker community who saw it as a demigod.”
Kevin Mitnick was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in mid-2022. Among the survivors is his wife, Kimberley, who is expecting children later this year.
Rasch, who later spoke on the same cybersecurity panels as Kevin Mitnick and helped the former suspect at the hospital when he fell ill, believed Mitnick’s sentence was fair and “knew what he did was wrong”.
But “there are really bad people, really dangerous people on the internet right now, I wouldn’t put Kevin Mitnick in that category.” said.