He Was Once the 'World's Most Wanted Hacker'

Kevin Mitnick dies from cancer complications at age 59
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 20, 2023 12:01 PM CDT
He Went From Most Wanted to Working for 'the Greater Good'
Kevin Mitnick is shown at an event in Mexico on Aug. 13, 2010.   (Wikimedia Commons/Campus Party M?xico)

Kevin Mitnick, named the world's most wanted computer hacker during a 1990s crime spree, died Sunday at age 59. Mitnick had been battling pancreatic cancer for more than a year, according to his obituary, which notes "much of his life reads like a fiction story." "An only child with a penchant for mischief [and] a defiant attitude toward authority ... he transitioned from pranks and learning magic tricks to phone phreaking, social engineering, and computer hacking." In 1988, he was found to have copied a company's software and was sentenced to a year in prison. According to Engadget, "he broke into Pacific Bell's voicemail computers when he was under supervised release and then continued to hack into cell networks, as well as company and government websites."

He was involved in stealing thousands of data files and credit card numbers, though his obituary claims he "never took one dime from any of his 'victims.'" "Anyone who loves to play chess knows that it's enough to defeat your opponent," he later wrote, per the New York Times. "You don't have to loot his kingdom or seize his assets to make it worthwhile." Arrested in 1995 following a two-year manhunt during which he landed on the FBI's Most Wanted List, Mitnick eventually pleaded guilty to computer and wire fraud. He also gained support among people who viewed him as liberating data. As he awaited sentencing in 1998, some members of the "Free Kevin" movement took control of the Times' website, "plastering pornographic photos of women on its homepage," per the Washington Post.

He was sentenced to five years in prison but received credit for time served. He emerged in 2000 as "a changed individual, and began constructing a new career, as a White Hat hacker and security consultant," according to the obituary. He became part owner and chief hacking officer of KnowBe4, a security awareness training company, where he used his skills "for the greater good and to develop hacking demonstrations that educated the business world and everyday people on how to protect themselves." He also wrote numerous books, including the bestseller The Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker, in which he denied hacking government computers. He's survived by wife Kimberley, who is pregnant with the couple's first child, the obituary notes. (More obituary stories.)

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