Kevin Mitnick’s journey to notoriety started when he was a kid playing pranks by changing telephone numbers. However, he didn’t catch the attention of the world until he tested his skills in deeper, more dangerous waters — just to see if he could.
But why did The New York Times call Kevin “the most wanted hacker in all cyberspace,” and how did the Free Kevin movement revolutionize the cybersecurity industry? Here, we’ll discuss how Kevin’s case impacted the industry via the movement crucial to Kevin’s transition to White Hat hacking.
What Spurred the Free Kevin Movement?
In 1995, Kevin Mitnick’s case brought to light many nuances to the cyber security industry. Kevin’s imprisonment was highly controversial because he was denied bail, coerced into a guilty plea, and fought an uphill, drawn-out legal battle. Although he committed cybercrimes, Kevin had no intent to exploit or profit from the information he gathered or cause serious harm.
Many people rallied together in Kevin’s defense because they felt that the crimes of this prankster did not match his jail time or how his case was handled. Kevin’s supporters wrote articles, posted fliers, made bumper stickers, and even rallied outside of the prison to march in a parade with yellow, “Free Kevin” banners. This protest for the Free Kevin movement sent the prison into lockdown, and that was only the beginning. His cyber advocates went to great lengths and also defaced websites around the world with “Free Kevin” banners.
As information about Kevin’s case was exposed, much to the displeasure of the government, the support for Kevin grew. The Free Kevin movement extended to parades outside of federal courthouses in fifteen different cities around the globe. Eventually, Kevin was released from prison and greeted by a large crowd of “fans” who were there to show their support.
Worldwide Lessons Learned
Through his jail time and unfair treatment, Kevin was used as an example to deter other hackers from attempting similar breaches. Kevin’s supporters found it unjust that the FBI was so tough on Kevin while serious, violent criminals were on the run. However, this case also raised awareness about the importance of not just cyber security, but hackers in particular.
The world saw that Kevin did not breach systems with malicious intent, causing many to reevaluate the term “hacker”. Suddenly, it no longer equated to “criminal”. Through the Free Kevin movement, rumors were proven false, and hackers began to have a voice. Additionally, many people around the world began to consider why we shouldn’t use jail time to make an example of hackers.
The movement also shifted the public’s attention to cyber security, as organization owners began to question the quality of their current security measures. Kevin had proved that social engineering, backed with hacking know-how, could breach even large, well-protected organizations. However, a reformed Kevin brought to light positive lessons that these same skills can be used to bring about security awareness to companies.
How the Cyber Security Industry Changed
Kevin, the world’s most notorious hacker, showcased that hacking could be used for good, as he helped the cybersecurity industry develop the use of social engineering and penetration testing to analyze the security of systems globally.
Thanks to Kevin’s case and his work in the years after, the cybersecurity industry began to utilize ethical hackers to protect their companies from cybercriminals, instead of stereotyping all hackers into one category of malicious villains. To boot, Kevin launched Mitnick Security to use hacking to test a company’s security with that company’s permission.
This form of ethical hacking, called penetration testing, has grown in popularity within the cybersecurity industry and is a great way to identify weaknesses and improve security before the actual bad guys exploit them.
As a result of the Free Kevin movement, as well as techniques and recommendations of a reformed Kevin, the cybersecurity industry evolved to meet the new security needs of organizations and stop bad actors.
Kevin Mitnick Today
The Free Kevin movement was the beginning of Kevin’s transformation into one of the most trusted defenders of cybersecurity in the world. Kevin has written several books including “A Ghost in the Wires” (2011), a memoir that recounts his experiences as a hacker.
Today, Kevin not only leads his Global Ghost Team, but he also provides seminars and training to further help organizations strengthen their cybersecurity posture.
Discover more about Kevin Mitnick and his journey to running a trusted cybersecurity company with a 100% success rate.