3 min Security

Kevin Mitnick, former most wanted hacker, dies at 59

Kevin Mitnick, former most wanted hacker, dies at 59

Kevin Mitnick, who became one of the world’s most wanted hackers in the 1990s, has died at the age of 59 from pancreatic cancer. Mitnick also made a name for himself as a security consultant, author and speaker.

“Much of his life reads like a fiction story. The word that most of us who knew him would use – magnificent,” the obituary reads. The death has also since been confirmed by KnowBe4, the security company of which he later became part owner and chief hacking officer.

Early years

Mitnick’s years of hacking activities made him one of the best-known cybercriminals in history. He gained access to systems from Motorola, Nokia and Sun Microsystems. The damage Mitnick did with this reportedly ran into millions. Whether he actually made significant sums from the hacks is unclear. “My motivation was a quest for knowledge, the intellectual challenge, the thrill and the escape from reality,” Mitnick stated, according to The Washington Post. According to authorities, he had access to trade secrets worth millions of dollars at the time.

Mitnick grew up as only child of divorced parents in Los Angeles. He moved frequently and was also known as a loner, with a particular interest in learning magic tricks. This can be read in his book Ghost in the Wires.

By the age of 12, Mitnick had figured out how to ride the bus for free with a $15 punch card and a discarded bus ticket. While in high school, he became very interested in the workings of telephone company switches and circuits. At the age of 17, he finally had his first confrontation with the authorities when he dove into systems of various companies. A years-long cat-and-mouse game with the police followed.


Mitnick first infiltrated a computer system in 1979, but it wasn’t until 1988 that he received a 12-month prison sentence for copying company software. “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, as a fugitive in the 90s. Mitnick was also involved in the theft of thousands of files and credit card numbers,” Engadget writes of Mitnick’s infamous years.

Police eventually tracked him down with the help of Tsutomu Shimomura, a security expert who claimed his computer was hacked by Mitnick. At the hearing following his arrest, Mitnick reportedly expressed respect for Shimomura’s skills.

In 1999, Mitnick pleaded guilty to several counts of fraud and other cyber crimes. He was sentenced to five years in prison. His release followed in 2000, as time already spent in prison had to be taken into account. Mitnick was also banned from using the Internet without government permission. He regained the right only after a long fight with authorities.

During his prison sentence, a group shut down the New York Times website. The group posted pornographic material on the medium’s home page. They wanted Mitnick released.

New era

After his release, Mitnick described his time in prison as a vacation. His career took a turn by continuing as a white hat hacker and security consultant. In 2011, he became co-owner and chief hacking officer of KnowBe4. This security company provides security awareness training to make employees aware of risks associated with digital activities.

In mid-2022, Mitnick was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Last Sunday, he passed away at the age of 59. He leaves behind his wife Kimberley Mitnick, who is pregnant with their first child.

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