Kevin Mitnick, the renowned former hacker once ranked among the United States’ most wanted computer criminals, passed away on Sunday at the age of 59. The sad news was confirmed by both a cybersecurity training company he co-founded and a Las Vegas-based funeral home, as stated in a Wednesday announcement.
Kathy Wattman, a spokesperson for the training company KnowBe4, verified the news of Mitnick’s demise. The cause of death was attributed to complications from pancreatic cancer. The skilled hacker had been under treatment at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center since his diagnosis over a year ago, according to the King David Memorial Chapel & Cemetery in Las Vegas.
After serving a prison sentence for infiltrating and tampering with corporate computer networks, Mitnick emerged from incarceration in 2000 and embarked on a new career path as a security consultant, author, and public speaker.
Notably, Mitnick gained notoriety during the 1990s for a crime spree that involved pilfering thousands of data files and credit card numbers from computers nationwide. Employing his exceptional skills, he managed to infiltrate the country’s phone and cell networks, causing damage to government, corporate, and university computer systems.
During that period, investigators labeled him the “most wanted” computer hacker in the world. In 1995, following a manhunt spanning over two years, the FBI apprehended Mitnick and charged him with illegal use of a telephone access device and computer fraud. The extent of his alleged access to corporate trade secrets valued in millions of dollars posed a significant threat, as stated by Kent Walker, a former assistant U.S. attorney in San Francisco.
In 1998, while awaiting sentencing, a group of supporters commandeered The New York Times website for several hours, causing it to shut down temporarily. Eventually, in 1999, Mitnick pleaded guilty to computer and wire fraud as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors. He received a 46-month prison sentence and a three-year restriction from using a computer or cellphone without the permission of his probation officer after release.
Mitnick’s early years in Los Angeles were marked by frequent moves and a somewhat solitary upbringing as an only child of divorced parents. According to his 2011 memoir “Ghost in the Wires,” he developed a fascination with magic tricks during his youth.
By the age of 12, Mitnick had already cracked the code to ride buses for free using a $15 punch card and discarded tickets. In high school, his passion shifted towards the intricate workings of telephone companies’ switches and circuits. This led him to burrow into various corporate computer systems and initiate his first encounter with the authorities for his activities, igniting a prolonged cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement.
In his memoir, Mitnick challenged many of the allegations leveled against him, including hacking into government computer systems. He also maintained that he disregarded the credit card numbers he obtained during his hacking endeavors, emphasizing his focus on the intellectual challenge rather than material gain.
Mitnick leaves behind his wife, Kimberley Mitnick, who is currently pregnant with their first child, according to an obituary published by the funeral home. As the news of his passing reverberates through the cybersecurity community, his legacy as a prodigious hacker turned security expert and speaker remains indelible.