Famed US hacker Dies Aged 59


The family of Kevin David Mitnick, 59, say he died peacefully on Sunday, July 16, 2023, after valiantly battling pancreatic cancer for more than a year. Kevin is survived by his beloved wife, Kimberley Mitnick, who remained by his side throughout their 14-month ordeal. Kimberley is pregnant with their first child.

Kevin was preceded in death by his mother, Shelly Jaffe, and his grandmother, Reba Vartanian, his father, Alan Mitnick, and his half-brother, Adam Mitnick.

He is survived by his brother-in-law, Ricky Barry and his wife Roxy, and their three children: Millie, Winston, and George, his mother-in-law and father-in-law, Daisy and Andrew Tibbs, his stepmother Nanci King, his great aunt Sophie “Chickie” Leventhal and her longtime partner, Dr. Bob Berkowitz, Kevin’s cousins Mitch Leventhal, Karen van den Berg, Jolie Mitnick, Mark Mitnick and Wendy Cohen.

Kevin grew up in the San Fernando Valley in California, an only child with a penchant for mischief, a defiant attitude toward authority, and a love for magic. Kevin’s intelligence and delight in holding the rapt attention of audiences revealed themselves early in his childhood and continued throughout his life. In time, he transitioned from pranks and learning magic tricks to phone phreaking, social engineering, and computer hacking.

When his desire to push boundaries led him too far astray, he landed in juvenile detention and eventually served a couple of stints in prison. His time on the FBI’s Most Wanted List was well documented in his New York Times bestselling book, The Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker, and his other titles: The Art of Deception, The Art of Intrusion, both co-authored with William Simon, and The Art of Invisibility with Robert Vamosi.

Kevin emerged from his final prison term, which he deemed a ‘vacation,’ in January 2000. He was a changed individual, and began constructing a new career, as a White Hat hacker and security consultant. He became a highly sought-after global public speaker, a writer, and established the successful Mitnick Security Consulting. In November 2011, he became the Chief Hacking Officer and part owner of security awareness training company KnowBe4, founded by close friend and business partner Stu Sjouwerman.

Kevin’s family says “he attracted attention and support from unlikely sources. The bus driver who saw young Kevin memorize the bus schedules, punch cards and punch tool systems so he could ride the buses all day for free testified as a character witness for Kevin during his federal trial. The federal prosecutor offered his testimony that Kevin never tried to take one dime from any of his “victims.” The probation officer assigned to monitor Kevin after prison gave Kevin permission to write his first book on a laptop when he was not yet supposed to have access to computers. Shawn Nunley, the star witness in the FBI’s case against Kevin, became so disillusioned with the government’s treatment of Kevin that he contacted Kevin’s defense team, helped garner Kevin’s release, and became one of Kevin’s dearest friends. Kevin had an irresistible way of converting foes to friends and keeping them as friends forever”.

His family adds that “to know Kevin was to be enthralled, exasperated, amazed, amused, irritated, and utterly charmed – in equal measure. 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. He spent much of his time working with his Global Ghost Team, an elite pentesting team that spans Argentina, Spain, Germany, Canada, and beyond. Self-educated and driven by eagerness, intense drive, immense curiosity, and seemingly endless energy, he continually expanded his skills as a hacker. He was insatiable in pushing himself, and his team, to pursue excellence in their tradecraft. Kevin was a visionary and an expert at finding a way into every organization he was authorized to hack. He used this knowledge for the greater good and to develop hacking demonstrations that educated the business world and everyday people on how to protect themselves. Kevin’s body of work inspired many individuals to pursue a career in cybersecurity – the industry upon which he leaves an indelible mark and an incredible legacy”.

“Kevin applied that same relentless tenacity to attempting to beat pancreatic cancer. He and Kimberley invested thousands of hours in searching for the very best treatments, finding the cutting edge research, and working with the most talented and aggressive doctors and surgeons. That search led him to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Dr. Amer Zureikat, Dr. Randall Brand, and their incredible staff. Each individual did their utmost to help Kevin beat the odds and survive and for that we will always be grateful”.

“Kevin was a gentleman: well-mannered and respectful, astoundingly generous with those he loved. He had a unique and unforgettable laugh – a delightful, loud, booming one – which he unleashed unexpectedly and often, frequently accompanied by a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. He saw the funny side of his compulsive perfectionism and work ethic, and enjoyed laughing at his own expense – a rare quality among the best of us.”

“We knew him simply as Kev, our beloved friend, a devoted husband, and a trustworthy confidante. Kevin Mitnick crammed a dozen lifetimes into a single prematurely short one. He wanted nothing more than to live — to keep enjoying the little ‘BIG’ things like quality time with his wife and their growing family, his in-laws, his relatives, and his longtime friends.”

“He had so much living left to do. And we know, with broken hearts, that there will never ever be anyone like him again. We will miss him for the rest of our days, hear his voice in our minds, and look forward to reconnecting with him in whatever version of the ‘beyond’ we each believe in. To imagine that Kev could be there to greet us, likely playing a prank, or inviting us to share an extraordinary meal and conversation, will be heaven indeed. We are each so deeply grateful for the time we had with this truly great man”.

“We celebrate that a part of Kevin will live on with the upcoming birth of his and Kimberley’s child. We can only hope that the child knows, as he or she grows, that around the world, the many friends of his father will be holding them in their hearts.”

A private memorial and burial service will be held for close friends and family members.

Donations can be made in Kevin’s memory to The National Pancreas Foundation https://pancreasfoundation.org/ or The Equal Justice Initiative https://eji.org/

These are two causes of great importance to Kimberley and Kevin; both organizations put the majority of donated funds to work in the communities they serve.

Image: Kevin Mitnick presenting live in Perth, 11 October 2019.