The world of cybersecurity mourns the passing of Kevin Mitnick, a former hacker whose name once featured on the list of America’s most wanted computer criminals. On Sunday, the cybersecurity training company he co-founded and a Las Vegas funeral home jointly announced the sad news of his demise at the age of 59.
KnowBe4, a cybersecurity training company, confirmed Mitnick’s death through their spokesperson, Kathy Wattman. The cause of his passing was attributed to complications arising from pancreatic cancer. For the past year, Mitnick had been receiving treatment at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, as disclosed by the King David Memorial Chapel & Cemetery based in Las Vegas.
Following his imprisonment for breaking into and tampering with corporate computer networks, Mitnick’s life took a new trajectory when he was released in 2000. He found a fresh career path as a security consultant, writer, and public speaker.
Mitnick became widely known for his activities during the 1990s, where he orchestrated a crime spree involving the theft of a large volume of data files and credit card numbers from computers across the United States. Leveraging his unparalleled skills, he penetrated the nation’s phone and cell networks, wreaking havoc on government, corporate, and university computer systems.
The hacker earned the notorious title of the “most wanted” computer hacker worldwide during this period. After more than two years of intensive manhunt, the FBI finally apprehended Mitnick in 1995. He faced charges for the illegal use of a telephone access device and computer fraud. Kent Walker, a former assistant U.S. attorney in San Francisco, emphasized the enormity of the threat posed by Mitnick due to his alleged access to corporate trade secrets valued in the millions of dollars.
During his wait for sentencing in 1998, a group of supporters took over The New York Times website, causing it to shut down temporarily as a show of solidarity with Mitnick. The following year, he pleaded guilty to computer and wire fraud as part of a plea deal with prosecutors, resulting in a 46-month prison sentence. Following his release, he was forbidden from using a computer or cellphone without the consent of his probation officer for three years.
Mitnick’s early life in Los Angeles was marked by frequent relocations and a somewhat introverted nature as an only child of divorced parents. His 2011 memoir “Ghost in the Wires” revealed his fascination with magic tricks during his formative years.
At the young age of 12, Mitnick had already mastered the art of riding buses for free by manipulating a $15 punch card and discarded tickets he retrieved from a dumpster. In high school, his curiosity shifted to the inner workings of telephone companies’ switches and circuits. This led him to delve into various corporate computer systems and led to his first brush with law enforcement, initiating a long-lasting game of cat-and-mouse.
In his memoir, Mitnick refuted numerous accusations against him, including hacking into government computer systems. He asserted that despite acquiring credit card numbers during his hacking activities, he had no intention of exploiting them for personal gain. His passion for hacking, according to him, was motivated by the intellectual challenge rather than material pursuits.
Mitnick’s legacy will be remembered, and his passing leaves behind his pregnant wife, Kimberley Mitnick, as mentioned in an obituary published by the funeral home. As the world pays tribute to this enigmatic figure who transformed from a notorious hacker to a cybersecurity expert and speaker, his influence on the industry remains profound.