Kevin Mitnick, famous white hat hacker, dies aged 59

20 Jul 2023

Kevin Mitnick. Image: Conor McKenna

Mitnick’s curious, mischievous nature fuelled his interest in hacking, led him onto the FBI’s Most Wanted list in the 90s and helped him become a major name in the cybersecurity sector.

Kevin Mitnick, a renowned hacker that gained notoriety in the 90s before becoming a cybersecurity consultant, has died of pancreatic cancer.

He passed away peacefully on 16 July and is survived by his wife Kimberley, who is currently pregnant with their first child, according to an obituary page.

Mitnick rose to fame when he was arrested in 1995 for multiple offences, including breaking into the networks of major firms such as Nokia, Motorola and IBM. His interest in hacking began thanks to his curious, mischievous nature and a love of both magic and pranking.

In 2018, Mitnick told that he wanted to get better access to the networks of phone companies “to be a better prankster”. His intrigue was never about profit or harm, but helped to grow his hacking skills until his past caught up to him in 1995.

“The government was chasing me for hacking a bunch of cellphone companies because I was fascinated with how the cellphone worked,” Mitnick said.

“I wanted to understand how it worked; made a stupid and regrettable decision to hack into these cellular manufacturers like Nokia, Motorola, and get the source code to the firmware on the chip inside, so I could study and understand how it worked.”

Mitnick served five years in prison and went on to become a white hat hacker and cybersecurity consultant. He grew into a major name in the cybersecurity sector, wrote multiple books on his hacking escapades and became the chief hacking officer and part owner of software training company KnowBe4.

“To know Kevin was to be enthralled, exasperated, amazed, amused, irritated, and utterly charmed – in equal measure,” Mitnick’s obituary reads. “He was insistent upon being kept updated at all times – even when it meant dozens of phone calls in a single day to the same person – just to be sure he had all the facts.

“He set incredibly high standards for himself and those who worked with him, and would get lost for hours in complex problems encountered in his work. We knew him simply as Kev, our beloved friend, a devoted husband and a trustworthy confidante.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic