KnowBe4: Leveraging Mitnick

August 21, 2020

Many hackers practice their “art,” because they want to beat the system, make easy money, and challenge themselves. White hat hackers are praised for their Batman vigilante tactics, but the black hat hackers like Kevin Mitnick cannot even be classified as a Robin Hood. Fast Company article, “I Hired An Infamous Hacker-And It Was The Best Decision I Ever Made” tells Stu Sjourverman’s story about hiring Kevin Mitnick.

Mitnick is a typical child hacker prodigy, who learned about easy money through pirated software. He went to prison for a year, violated his parole, and was viewed as an antihero by some and villain by others. Either way, his background was controversial and yet Sjourverman decided to hire him. Sjourverman was forming a new company centered on “social engineering” or “hacking the human,” terms used to describe tricking people into clicking harmful links or downloading malware invested attachments. For his new cybersecurity company, Sjourverman knew he needed a hacker:

“That was a turning point for my startup, KnowBe4. By recruiting Mitnick, we gained invaluable insights about where employees are most vulnerable. We were able to use those insights to develop a practical platform where companies can see where their own employees stumble and, most importantly, train them to recognize and avoid potential pitfalls. This is essential for any business because if all other security options fail, employees become a company’s last line of defense—one unintentional blunder can infect the entire network and bring down the whole company.”

Mitnick’s infamous reputation also gave the new startup a type of legitimacy. Other players in the cybersecurity industry knew about Mitnick’s talents and using them for white hat tactics gave KnowBe4 an advantage over rivals. Mitnick also became the center of KnowBe4’s marketing strategy, because he was a reformed criminal, understood the hacker community, and gave the startup an edgy yet authentic identity.

Hiring Mitnick proved to be the necessary step to make KnowBe4 a reputable and profitable business. It is also a story about redemption, because Mitnick donned the white hat and left his criminal past behind.

Will KnowBe4’s marketing maintain its momentum? Cyber security firms appear to be embracing Madison Avenue techniques. Watch next week’s DarkCyber for a different take on NSO Group’s “in the spotlight” approach to generating cyber intelligence sales.

Whitney Grace, August 21, 2020


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