Kevin Mitnick, the great hacker, is dead

Kevin Mitnick, who was once one of the most wanted hackers in the United States, is dead.

The man, best known for the theft of thousands of data files and credit card numbers from computers across the US in the 90s died on Sunday, aged 59.

His death was announced in a statement on Wednesday by a cybersecurity training company he co-founded. The cause was complications from pancreatic cancer, which he had been undergoing treatment for since his diagnosis more than a year ago.

Mitnick, during his criminal operations, used his skills to hack into the US’s phone and cell networks, vandalizing government, corporate and university computer systems. He was alleged to have access to corporate trade secrets worth millions of dollars and tagged the “most wanted” computer hacker in the world by investigators.

He was captured in 1995, after a more than two-year-long manhunt and charged with the illegal use of a telephone access device and computer fraud. Amazingly, in 1998, while he was awaiting sentencing, a group of his supporters commandeered The New York Times website for several hours, forcing it to shut down.

In 1999, after pleading guilty to computer and wire fraud as part of an agreement with prosecutors, Mitnick was sentenced to 46 months in prison and prohibited from using a computer or cellphone without the permission of his probation officer for the three years following his release.

He was released in 2000 after serving prison time and began a new career as a security consultant, writer and public speaker.

Mitnick, who grew up in Los Angeles as an only child of divorced parents, was something of a loner and studied magic when he was younger. By the age of 12, he had known the tricks of how to freely ride the bus using a $15 punch card and blank tickets gotten from a dumpster, and in high school, he was already obsessed with the inner workings of the switches and circuits of telephone companies.

By the time he was 17, he was breaking into different corporate computer systems and had become a real threat.

But in his 2011 memoir, “Ghost in the Wires”, he denied some accusations levelled against him, including that he had hacked into government computer systems and claimed he never made money from the credit card numbers he came into access with during his hacking pursuits.

“Anyone who loves to play chess knows that it’s enough to defeat your opponent. You don’t have to loot his kingdom or seize his assets to make it worthwhile,” he wrote in his book.


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