10 Most Notorious Hackers of All Time
1. Jonathan James
Known as “comrade” by many online, 15-year-old Jonathan James was the first juvenile convicted and jailed in the United States for hacking. James hacked into companies like Bell South, as well as the Miami-Dade school system and the Department of Defense in 1999. He gained access to information like the source code responsible for operating the International Space Station.
Once NASA detected the breach, the space agency shut down their computers for three weeks, apparently losing an estimated $41,000. Arrested on January 26, 2000, James plea-bargained and was sentenced to house arrest and probation. He later served six months in an Alabama prison after failing a drug test and thus violating his probation. Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Office Max and other companies were victims of a 2007 massive hack. James was investigated by law enforcement for the crimes despite his denying any involvement.
James was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on May 18, 2008. In his suicide note he wrote he was troubled by the justice system and believed he would be prosecuted for newer crimes with which he had nothing to do.
2. Vladimir Levin
Interestingly, Levin did not use the Internet to gain access to the bank’s database. Instead, he tapped into telecommunications systems and listened to customers state their account information. All but $400,000 was recovered, and he pled guilty to one charge of making $3.7 million in unauthorized transfers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Levin received three years in prison and was ordered to pay back $240,000 to Citibank. As the Federal Bureau of Investigation writes in 2014:
It was hardly the opening salvo in a new era of virtual crime, but it was certainly a shot across the bow.
Two decades ago, a group of enterprising criminals on multiple continents—led by a young computer programmer in St. Petersburg, Russia—hacked into the electronic systems of a major U.S. bank and secretly started stealing money. No mask, no note, no gun—this was bank robbery for the technological age.
Our case began in July 1994, when several corporate bank customers discovered that a total of $400,000 was missing from their accounts. Once bank officials realized the problem, they immediately contacted the FBI. Hackers had apparently targeted the institution’s cash management computer system—which allowed corporate clients to move funds from their own accounts into other banks around the world. The criminals gained access by exploiting the telecommunications network and compromising valid user IDs and passwords.
3. Gary McKinnon
Between 2001 and 2002, Scottish computer hacker Gary McKinnon gained access to 97 American military networks between 2001 and 2002, even leaving the military a message on its website: “Your security is crap.” McKinnon’s goal was to prove the existence of UFOs. The US failed to extradite him.
His hack has been called the “biggest military computer hack of all time.” Today the former hacker has re-invented himself as a SEO wizard, charging 40 pounds per hour to help firms rank. Here is what the well-known hacker said he found during his hacks:
4. John McAfee
When John McAfee lived in Belize, he planned to study plants. Probably some psycho-active plants. He had a lab for this. Authorities seized his property for creating drugs in this lab, claims McAfee, after an official came seeking political bribes from the gringo. To get back at the Belize government and prove their corruption, he hacked every major computer from Belize government bureaucracies. He found evidence implicating officials in corruption, laundering, drug running and murder. He had to organize his own escape out of Belize to avoid arrest. He did this by faking a heart attack.
Today McAfee lays low, believing he is routinely being tracked by law enforcement. He recently posted on social media he got into a shootout with police after having been arrested.
Astra, a pseudonym, stands for a Greek hacker who gained access to French aviation company Dassault Group computers, stealing weapons technology data for more than five years. Astra sold information about jet fighters and military aircrafts to countries during the period spanning the hacks. Astra’s infiltration of Dassault computers apparently cost the company more than $360 million. Astra’s identity, never identified, is described by authorities as a 58-year old mathematician. Caught in January 2008, Astra was sentenced to six years in jail.
6. Stephen Wozniak
Co-founder of Apple Stephen Wozniak’s first white-hat hacking involved “phone-phreaking.” He bypassed the phone system and, while studying at the University of California, made devices for friends called “blue boxes” which enabled free long-distance phone calls. Wozniak reportedly used one of these devices to try and call the Pope. He later formed Apple Computer with pal Steve Jobs.
7. James Kosta
James Kosta and partners hacked big business and military computers, including major banks, General Electric and IBM. He was 14-year-old. Convicted of 45 counts of technical burglary and 45 years in prison, he instead joined the Navy at 18 years-old as intelligence analyst. At 20 he joined the CIA to track warlords in Africa and Middle East, and at 24 he sold his first dotcom company for millions of dollars. Today he mentors “troubled youth” to tap their full potential.
“When you look a little deeper, as people did with me, you’re able to get kids focused on their potential,” he once said. Here is a recent Ted Talk he gave on the online gambling.
8. Kevin Mitnick
Kevin Mitnick has had a long lasting impact on the security industry. In early adulthood, he made free calls on hacked cellphones and stole code from companies such as Sun Microsystems and Novell, according to The New York Times. He told the times he even hacked into NSA phone calls. After pleading guilty to numerous fraud charges, he served five years in prison and now works as a professional security consultant. He remains active today, especially on Twitter.
9. Adrian Lamo
The “homeless hacker”, Adriam Lamo, is also one of the world’s most hated hackers after turning in Chelsea Manning for leaking classified US Army documents.
Before that, he hacked the computer of The New York Times in 2002 gaining access to private databases including information of all 3,000 authors of op-eds at the paper. Sentenced two years probation and fined nearly $65,000, Lamo went on to bigger fame later in life.
I think about him every day. The decision was not one I decided to make, but was thrust upon me.
10. David L. Smith
David Smith authored the Melissa worm virus; that is, the first successful email-aware virus distributed in the Usenet discussion group alt. sex. Arrested and sentenced for causing more than $80 million in damage, David Smith remains one of the world’s original notorious hackers after serving 20 months in jail.
There are other notable hackers, such as Max Ray “Iceman” Butler (ran up over $86 million in fraudulent charges), Kevin Poulson (military and phone company hacks), Jeremy Hammond (Anonymous) and Albert Gonzalez ( hack of TJ Maxx and other retailers). Of course, there are entire hacker groups, such as Anonymous, as well.
Who are some of the most notorious hackers in your mind? Let us know in the comment field below.
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