Kevin Mitnick, a hacker targeted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s long-running manhunt in the 1990s that made him the most notorious cybercriminal in the United States, died on July 16. The American media reported his death on Thursday. The “world’s most famous hacker” as he referred to himself – or “computer terrorist” as the US Department of Justice called him – was 59 years old.
Kevin Mitnick was born on August 6, 1963. As a boy, he broke the ticketing system in Los Angeles, thanks to which he could ride city buses for free. As a teenager, he overcame the security of the US Air Defense Command (NORAD) computers, and at the age of 20, he began to appear on the radars of federal law enforcement agencies, the Washington Post wrote.
“The most famous hacker in the world” as he called himself – or “computer terrorist” as the Department of Justice called him – at a time when the Internet was slowly spreading around the world, he hacked into the systems of companies such as Motorola, Nokia and Sun Microsystems, causing what investigators believed to be hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage.
In 1995, “Condor” – as Mitnick was known – was arrested in the middle of the night by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in an apartment in North Carolina. The operation was preceded by a 24-hour surveillance of the property and a two-year manhunt for the cybercriminal.
In 1999, he pleaded guilty to several online scams and other cyber crimes, for which he was sentenced to five years in prison. His time in custody was counted towards his sentence, and Mitnick was released from prison in 2000, but was banned by the court from using the Internet without permission from the authorities. This restriction ceased to apply after a few years.
It is not clear whether Mitnick’s activities brought him significant financial gains. Testifying before the US Senate Committee, he argued that his motivation was “the search for knowledge, intellectual challenge, thrill and escape from reality.”
In later years, Kevin Mitnick made a career as a web security consultant. In mid-2022, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The disease led to his death on July 16, 2023, as reported by Kathy Wattman, spokeswoman for KnowBe4, a cybersecurity training company where Mitnick worked. He was 59 years old.
Main photo source: KAI FOERSTERLING/EPA/PAP