Kevin Mitnick, a reformed hacker who was once one of the most wanted computer criminals in the United States, died Sunday, according to a statement shared Wednesday by a cybersecurity training company he co-founded and a funeral home in Las Vegas. He was 59 years old.
His death was confirmed by Kathy Wattman, a spokeswoman for the training company, SaberBe4.
The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer. She had been receiving treatment at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center following her diagnosis more than a year ago, according to the King David Memorial Chapel and Cemetery In Las Vegas
After serving prison time for hacking into and tampering with corporate computer networks, he was released in 2000 and began a new career as a security consultant, writer, and public speaker.
Mr. Mitnick was best known for the crime wave during the 1990s that involved the theft of thousands of data files and credit card numbers from computers across the country. He used his abilities to hack his way into the nation’s phone and cellular networks, vandalizing government, corporate, and university computer systems.
Investigators at the time named him the world’s “most wanted” hacker.
In 1995, after a manhunt of more than two years, Mr. Mitnick was captured by the FBI and charged with illegal use of a dial-up device and computer fraud. “He allegedly had access to millions of dollars worth of corporate trade secrets. He was a huge threat,” Kent Walker, a former assistant US attorney in San Francisco, said at the time.
In 1998, while Mitnick awaited sentencing, a group of supporters took over The New York Times website for several hours, forcing it to shut down.
The following year, Mr. Mitnick pleaded guilty to computer and wire fraud as part of a plea bargain and was sentenced to 46 months in prison. He was also prohibited from using a computer or cell phone without the permission of his probation officer for three years after his release.
Mr. Mitnick grew up in Los Angeles as the only child of divorced parents. He moved frequently and was somewhat of a loner, studying magic tricks, according to his 2011 memoir, “Ghost in the Wires.”
By the age of 12, Mr. Mitnick had figured out how to freely ride the bus using a $15 punch card and blank tickets he pulled from a dumpster, and in high school he developed an obsession with the inner workings of phone company switches and circuits.
At 17, he was investigating different 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 disputed many of the accusations made against him, including that he had hacked into government computer systems.
Mr. Mitnick also claimed that he ignored the credit card numbers he obtained in his search for the code. “Anyone who loves to play chess knows that it is enough to defeat your opponent. You don’t have to plunder his kingdom or seize his goods to make it worth your while,” he wrote in his book.
Survivors include Mr. Mitnick’s wife, Kimberley Mitnick, who is pregnant with their first child, according to an obituary posted by the funeral home.
A full obituary will be published shortly.