Kevin Mitnick, a legendary figure in the mid-1990s during the early days of widespread internet usage, epitomized the archetypal computer hacker. Brilliant yet introverted, mischievous, and enigmatic, he possessed a certain degree of threat that kept the nation on edge.
Throughout his life, Mitnick’s fascination with technology was evident from a young age. As a heavyset and lonely boy, he learned how to ride the bus for free at 12, using discarded tickets he found in a dumpster. In high school, his obsession with the inner workings of telephone switches and circuits grew, and he mischievously played pranks, such as reprogramming the home phone of someone he disliked demanding a deposit of 25 cents for each call.
However, as time passed, he transformed his skills and became the “chief hacking officer” of a cybersecurity firm called KnowBe4. Sadly, on a Sunday in Pittsburgh, Kevin Mitnick passed away at 59 due to pancreatic cancer, as confirmed by Kathy Wattman, a spokeswoman for KnowBe4.
In 1995, Mitnick was described as the nation’s most wanted computer hacker and remained a fugitive for over two years. Among his most audacious acts were his attempts to outwit authorities tracking him. In 1993 he hacked into the California phone systems, and he could wiretap FBI agents that were hunting him, leading them astray. In one instance, they even raided a location they believed to be Mitnick’s hideout, only to find an innocent Middle Eastern immigrant watching TV.
On another occasion, utilizing a radio scanner and software, Mitnick detected that the FBI was closing in on him. He swiftly fled his apartment, leaving a box of doughnuts behind for the arriving authorities.
However, his most notable downfall came on Christmas Day in 1994 when he stole emails from another hacker named Tsutomu Shimomura and brazenly taunted him. Unfazed, Shimomura volunteered to help track down Mitnick and used his specially designed software to reconstruct Mitnick’s computer sessions. With the help of cellphone scanning equipment, Shimomura successfully located him, leading to Mitnick’s capture.
Upon arrest, Mitnick faced charges of illegally using a telephone access device and computer fraud. Authorities believed he had access to highly valuable corporate trade secrets, making him a significant economic threat.
Kevin Mitnick’s legacy remains a mix of infamy and brilliance, leaving a lasting impact on the world of cybersecurity and hacking.