Kevin David Mitnick, a pioneer in cybersecurity, social engineering, and hacking, passed away last week at the age of 59. According to his obituary, he died peacefully following a 14-month struggle with pancreatic cancer.
Before becoming a well-known cybersecurity specialist, Mitnick, whom the US Justice Department labeled a “computer terrorist” during their search for him in the early 1990s, received two prison terms for hacking into computer networks in 1988 and 1999.
According to Mitnick’s biography, his curiosity served as his main motivation. He stated:
“All of this was really to satisfy my own curiosity, see what I could do, and find out secret information about operating systems, cell phones, and anything else that stirred my curiosity.”
The Hacking Legend
When Mitnick began his career as a hacker in 1979, he was just 12 years old. He was once imprisoned in 1988. In addition to his knowledge, he served as an inspiration for several hacking-related movies.
When he figured out the paper transfer systems on the Los Angeles transit system in the 1970s, he became obsessed with systems and technology, and his understanding of social engineering was formed when he persuaded a helpful bus driver to tell him where to buy the necessary ticket punch.
Kevin Mitnick allegedly never abused the data or information he obtained by hacking into some of the largest networks in the world. Mitnick regarded his hacking of the Northern American Defense Command (NORAD) in 1982 as one of his greatest accomplishments. The 1982 hacking incident was eventually turned into the well-known movie War Games.
When he stole more than $1 million in software from Digital Equipment Corp. in his 20s, he significantly tangled with government investigators. Later, while still on probation, he broke into Pacific Bell Systems, turning himself into a wanted man. He would breach security at IBM, Nokia, and Motorola along the way.
Kevin Mitnick engaged in what the then-U.S. Attorney Christopher Painter referred to as a “countrywide hacking spree” in the mid-to late-1990s, getting into both government systems—possibly even NORAD and private companies like Sun Microsystems or Motorola. This binge, which resulted in 25 cybercrime charges and jail time when he was added to the FBI’s most-wanted list, gave rise to the “FREE KEVIN” campaign and, depending on how you look at it, further fueled his online notoriety or infamy.