Kevin Mitnick, Celebrated U.S. Hacker Turned Cybersecurity…[ad_1]
Kevin Mitnick, the legendary computer hacker who transitioned into a respected cybersecurity professional and author, has passed away at the age of 59. Mitnick, known for his groundbreaking antics in tricking employees in the 1980s and 1990s into helping him steal software and services from major phone and tech companies, died in Las Vegas after a 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to a report by Apnews.com.
From his early days as a student tinkerer to becoming an FBI-hunted fugitive, a felon, and finally a highly regarded cybersecurity expert, Mitnick’s career mirrored society’s evolving understanding of computer hacking. His journey, along with the aggressive prosecution that led to his imprisonment for nearly five years, helped educate the public on differentiating between serious computer crimes and the mischievous activities of young hackers seeking to prove their skills.
Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of the security training firm KnowBe4, where Mitnick served as the chief hacking officer, confirmed his passing. Sjouwerman stated that Mitnick never hacked for personal gain but rather sought after trophies, particularly cellphone codes.
In 1995, Mitnick’s high-profile arrest made headlines and he was accused of causing millions of dollars in damages to companies such as Motorola, Novell, Nokia, and Sun Microsystems. However, gathering evidence for major crimes proved to be a challenge for federal prosecutors. After serving nearly four years in jail, Mitnick reached a plea agreement in 1999 and was credited for time served.
Upon his release from prison in January 2000, Mitnick maintained that his actions were “simple crimes of trespass” and that he was driven by a desire to understand how phone networks worked. His internet access and public speaking activities were initially restricted, but these requirements gradually eased over time. Mitnick was not allowed back online until December 2002.
Mitnick’s expertise lay in social engineering, a technique where he would impersonate company employees to obtain passwords and data. This method, known as pretexting, remains one of the most effective hacking techniques and requires extensive research and planning to execute successfully.
Chris Wysopal, a member of the white-hat hacking group L0pht, paid tribute to Mitnick on Twitter, stating that Mitnick’s ingenuity challenged systems and pushed the boundaries of cybersecurity.
“My hacking activity actually was a quest for knowledge, the intellectual challenge, the thrill and the escape from reality,” Mitnick said during a congressional hearing in March 2000. He boasted that he had successfully penetrated some of the toughest computer systems ever developed.
Mitnick’s first encounter with the law occurred when he was just 17, after walking into a Pacific Bell office and stealing computer manuals and codes to digital door locks. He served a year in a rehabilitation center and was deemed addicted to computer tampering by a federal judge.
Raised in a bleak suburb of Los Angeles, Mitnick found solace in the world of phone phreaks during his teenage years. It was through this community that his interest in computers blossomed, eventually leading him to become a hacker. However, conversations with investigative journalist Jonathan Littman revealed a different side of Mitnick. He appeared more fearful and disturbed than vindictive, and there was no evidence that he had ever used any of the credit card numbers found on his computer.
While Mitnick’s imprisonment sparked controversy among hackers, who believed his five-year sentence was excessive, exaggerated stories about his exploits fueled hysteria. One such story led to Mitnick being held in solitary confinement for nine months, after prison officials feared that he could whistle into a payphone to trigger a nuclear war.
Despite his troubled past, Mitnick became a respected figure in the cybersecurity industry. He authored several books, including “The Ghost in the Wires,” which detailed his adventures as a wanted hacker. Mitnick leaves behind his wife, Kimberley Barry, with whom he ran a separate penetration-testing business. Barry, originally from Australia, met Mitnick during his travels.
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