February 29, 2024

Kevin Mitnick, Hacker Who Eluded Authority, Is Dead at 59

Kevin Mitnick, a reformed hacker who was once one of the most wanted computer criminals in the United States, died on Sunday, according to a statement shared by a cybersecurity training company he co-founded and a Las Vegas funeral home on Wednesday. He was 59.

Kathy Wattman, spokeswoman for KnowBe4.

The cause was complications from pancreatic cancer. He was being treated at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center after being diagnosed more than a year ago, according to the King David Memorial Church and Cemetery in Las Vegas.

After serving prison time for breaking into and disrupting corporate computer networks, he was released in 2000 and began a new career as a security consultant, writer and public speaker.

Mr. Mitnick was known for a crime spree during the 1990s that involved the theft of thousands of data files and credit card numbers from computers across the country. He used his skills to work his way into the nation’s telephone and cell networks, sabotaging government, corporate and university computer systems.

Investigators at the time named him the world’s “greatest” computer hacker.

In 1995, after a manhunt of more than two years, Mr. Mitnick was arrested by the FBI and charged with illegal use of a telephone access device and computer fraud. “He allegedly had access to corporate trade secrets worth millions of dollars. He was a very serious threat,” Kent Walker, a former assistant US attorney in San Francisco, said at the time.

In 1998, while Mr. Mitnick was awaiting sentencing, a group of supporters took over the New York Times website for several hours, forcing him to resign.

The following year, Mr. Mitnick pleaded guilty to computer and wire fraud as part of a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to 46 months in prison. He was also banned from using a computer or mobile phone without the permission of his probation officer for three years after his release.

Mr. Mitnick grew up in Los Angeles as an only child of divorced parents. He moved often and was somewhat reclusive, studying magic tricks, according to his 2011 memoir, “Ghost in the Wires.”

By age 12, Mr. Mitnick had learned how to ride the bus without a hitch with a $15 punch card while fishing blank tickets from a dump truck, and in high school he developed an obsession with the inner workings of telephone company switches and circuits.

By 17, he was digging into various corporate computer systems and eventually had his first run-in with the authorities for those activities. It was the start of a decades-long cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement.

In his memoirs, Mr. Mitnick contested many of the allegations made against him, including that he hacked into government computer systems.

Mr. Mitnick also claimed he ignored the credit card numbers he obtained in his pursuit of the code. “Anyone who loves to play chess knows that it is enough to defeat your opponent. You don’t need to plunder his kingdom or seize his assets to make him worthy,” he wrote in his book.

Survivors include Mr. Mitnick’s wife, Kimberley Mitnick, who is pregnant with their first child, according to the obituary.

Total death will come.

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