Kevin Mitnick, once considered the “most wanted” cybercriminal in America, has passed away at the age of 59. An obituary states that Mitnick died on July 16th after a 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He had been undergoing treatment for his illness at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the notice states.
A larger-than-life figure in the early hacker community, Mitnick is primarily remembered for having carried out a series of outlandish cybercrimes in the 1980s and 1990s. His digital escapades culminated with a nationwide FBI manhunt that led to his 1995 arrest and conviction for various computer crimes. Following a short stint in prison, Mitnick reinvented himself as a public speaker, published author, and “white hat” cybersecurity professional.
“Kevin Mitnick crammed a dozen lifetimes into a single prematurely short one,” his obituary reads. He “was an original; much of his life reads like a fiction story,” it says, noting that to know Mitnick was to be “enthralled, exasperated, amazed, amused, irritated, and utterly charmed – in equal measure.”
KnowBe4, a cybersecurity consultancy firm that Mitnick partially owned, also published a statement Thursday confirming the hacker’s death. “Kevin will always remain “the world’s most famous hacker” and was renowned for his intelligence, humor and extraordinary skill with technology, surpassed only by his talent as the original “social engineer”, it reads.
During his twenties and early thirties, Mitnick broke into droves of corporate networks, including Pacific Bell, frequently stealing corporate data and credit card information. In 1999, he pleaded guilty to multiple crimes, including wire fraud and computer fraud. His imprisonment and notoriety led him to be dubbed the world’s “most well-known hacker” and kicked off the “FREE KEVIN” movement within the hacker community, which lobbied on the jailed cybercriminal’s behalf.
After serving five years in prison, Mitnick was released and started over. In 2003, he founded Mitnick Security Consulting, which went on to work with and advise numerous Fortune 500 companies, as well as government agencies. He also wrote a series of books, including a memoir, Ghost in the Wires, that detailed his early life and criminal escapades.
“He set incredibly high standards for himself and those who worked with him, and would get lost for hours in complex problems encountered in his work,” his obituary reads. “Self-educated and driven by eagerness, intense drive, immense curiosity, and seemingly endless energy, he continually expanded his skills as a hacker. He was insatiable in pushing himself, and his team, to pursue excellence in their tradecraft.”