There are two kinds of hackers in the world. The first kind is of white hat hackers, who use their hacking skills to identify flaws in online security. Then there’s the second kind called black hat hackers, who use hacking to destroy computer systems or commit crimes. When the word ‘hacker’ is mentioned, people usually think of the black hat hackers.
These individuals or groups, whether white hat or black hat, have made headlines in the past. Some acted out of good intentions while others hacked for their personal gains or to harm others. Here, we present some of the greatest hackers who were exceptionally brilliant:
1. Julian Assange
Before his worldwide fame as the creater of Wikileaks, he was known as Mendex. At the young age of 16, he formed an ethical hacking group along with two other hackers. The group was called International Subversives. Assange was able to hack into the US Department of Defense, Lockheed Martin, NASA, and several other high profile targets.
He was finally caught in 1991 while hacking into Nortel. He was 20 years of age at the time. Assange pleaded guilty to 35 charges, but managed to avoid heavy penalties. This was owing to his disrupted childhood and a perceived non-malicious intent. He went on to become the public face of Wikileaks, an online entity that publishes leaked corporate and government documents.
2. Edward Snowden
Snowden used social engineering and a broken security poicy of the NSA to get access to the important files. He gained massive popularity when he revealed the NSA’s spying program. After coming out with his revelations, Snowden fled to Russia and got political asylum in the country. Apparently, the agency had been spying on regular Americans on a massive scale.
Snowden was working for the NSA as a system administrator at the time. So, he was able to access most of their top-secret files. No one was auditing him when he was engaged in the leaks. Whenever he was not able to get a document, he used the credentials of the ones who had access to it.
3. Kevin Mitnick
He is today the part owner and Chief Hacking Officer of Mitnick Security Consulting LLC. His first act of computer hacking was breaking into the computer systems of Digital Equipment Corporation. He was put in jail for 12 months and had a 3-year supervised release. However, he hacked into Pacific Bell’s voice mail computers even before he could complete the 3-year agreement.
He also succeeded in avoiding an arrest warrant released in his name for 2.5 years. He was on a hacking spree even while he was on the run. He used cloned cellphones to hide his location. Mitnick then gained access to some of the largest cellular and computing companies.
After getting caught, he served five years in prison. Mitnick was a hacker even before computers had become mainstream. When he was 15 in 1978, he had used counterfeit punch cards to get free bus rides that he wanted. He was able to do this with the help of dumpster diving and a ticket puncher.
4. Hector Xavier Monsegur
Also known as ‘Sabu’, Monsegur was one of LulzSec’s founders. This infamous black hat hackers’ group had stolen key information from government and corporate websites. The group did this mainly for entertainment, but he was eventually caught by the FBI. He was given the choice of turning an informant or going to prison. Monsegur chose to co-operate with the FBI.
He then continued hacking with his Lulzsec team and kept reporting their activities to the FBI personnel. As a result, other members of the group were also captured. Their group, Lulzsec, thus saw its end after all these arrests. Monsegur had to spend just 7 months in jail, as he cooperated with the authorities. He could have otherwise spent 26 years in jail, which was his original sentence.
5. Ehud Tenenbaum
Also known as ‘The Analyzer’, Tenenbaum was the head of a group of hackers in 1998 at the age of 19. This group had managed to break into the computer systems of several high profile organizations. They included the NASA, the US and Israeli military, and some US and Israeli universities.
To get the classified information, the group had installed backdoors. It was called the most systematic and organized attack by John Hamre. To capture Tenenbaum and his team, the US government assembled their agents. An investigation was started under the code name ‘Solar Sunrise’.
They managed to capture Tenenbaum and he was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2001. He was arrested again in 2008 for hacking into financial companies and stealing credit card numbers. This time he accepted a plea bargain for co-operating with the investigators.
6. Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon had hacked into 97 NASA and the United States military computers in 2002. The US prosecutors described this Scottish hacker’s act as the biggest military computer hack of all time. The incident happened just a few months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.
So, it wasn’t just a simple break-in. He halted munitions supply to the US Navy’s Atlantic Fleet. By doing this, he had caused some real damage to the US military infrastructure. McKinnon also left messages on the computers that taunted America.
After his arrest, it was found that he had Asperger’s Syndrome. He claimed that he was only looking for proof of UFOs, free energy suppression, and anti-gravity technology. His medical condition allowed him to avoid being extradited.
7. Jonathan James
James committed suicide in 2008 by gunshot to the head. In 2007, he was suspected of helping his hacker friends commit a massive computer hacking spree. This was to compromise the credit information of millions. He was raided by the Secret Service even after he had repeatedly denied his involvement. He shot himself as he believed that he wouldn’t get proper justice.
He had hacked NASA and obtained the source code for the space station’s life support functions. As a result, NASA had to shut down their computers for three weeks. They also had to spend $41,000 to patch the system. James was arrested for this act and he served six months in a federal correctional facility.
He had committed his first act of hacking when he was 15. James was caught while breaking into the BellSouth and Miami-Dade school system.