He was the most famous hacker in the world. Kevin Mitnick has just died from pancreatic cancer, revealed the New York Times. This 59-year-old American, who has become a controversial hacking legend, died on July 16, 2023, after a year of fighting the disease, specifies the obituary published online.
Retraining in IT security
As the American East Coast daily reminds us, Kevin Mitnick had converted to computer security in the 2000s. Having become an author and lecturer, he had notably launched his own IT vulnerability resale company, Absolute Zero Day Exploit Exchange, and in 2011 took the position of Chief hacking officer at KnowBe4, an American specialist in computer security awareness.
This wiser end of the journey succeeded a tumultuous youth. The Californian had first found, as a teenager, a flaw in the bus ticketing, a way to travel for free in Los Angeles. Classically enough for the time, Kevin Mitnick then started phreaking, this way of making free calls.
It was, he would later say, “his introduction to social engineering”, one of his flagship skills that he will mobilize in his career as a pirate. For example, he posed as a company executive to obtain passwords. Nicknamed “Condor”, Kevin Mitnick chained in the 1980s and 1990s the hack. He thus gets hold of industrial secrets from the telecommunications sector or credit card numbers gleaned during these computer intrusions.
The one who managed to hack computers of his school district or the air defense command of Colorado Springs is sentenced for the first time in 1988. But he will become world famous after his hunt, in the mid-1990s. Considered one of the most wanted computer criminals in the United States, he managed to evade FBI investigators for two years.
Arrested thanks to the help of Tsutomu Shimomura
Kevin Mitnick was finally arrested in 1995, several weeks after hacking – a spoofing IP attack, an IP address spoofing – the computer of a computer security expert, Tsutomu Shimomura. Stung to the quick, this researcher at the San Diego Supercomputer Center will invest himself headlong in the hunt for the hacker. Quite critical of the lack of computer expertise of the FBI investigators, he plays a key role in the arrest of the fugitive, finally located in North Carolina.
The manhunt will be narrated in “Takedown” by computer expert and journalist John Markoff. A book deemed defamatory by the interested party, sentenced to five years in prison and presented as an irascible and stubborn pirate. Resentful – evidenced by this tweet, almost thirty years later -, Kevin Mitnick will later explain that he was first pushed by the adrenaline of the search for the flaw. ”My misdeeds were motivated by curiosity, I wanted to know as much as possible about the operation of telephone systems and computer security,” he will say.