Hackers have existed since the invention of computers. While the name “hacker” sounds bad, not all hackers follow a dark path. Some of them are only interested in finding loopholes and letting business know, so that they can prevent attacks. Most of them however, have wreaked havoc throughout history. There are three types of hackers; black-hat, white-hat and gray-hat. White-hat hackers, also known as ethical hackers, like to find flaws within a system and improve security. Gray-hats just like to roam around the back doors and have fun. Black-hat hackers are the ones who cause havoc in the world of technology.
Here are some of the most infamous and nefarious hackers, what they did to earn their reputations, and where they are today.
1. Adrian Lamo
Adrian Lamo lived a transient lifestyle, which earned him the nickname the “homeless hacker”. He first came into the spotlight in 2002, after breaking into the computer networks of The New York Times, Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft before he was arrested in 2003. Adrian used coffee shops and libraries as his command centers and used his knowledge in coding to gain access to sensitive materials. His hacking caught up to him when he attacked the Times in 2002, and gained access to personal information to writers for the paper.
A 15-month investigation revealed Adrian as the culprit and a warrant was placed for his arrest. Adrian however, surrendered in California and took a plea bargain that gave him six months of house arrest and no jail time. He was also sentenced to two years of probation and fined nearly $65,000 for wreaking havoc. Adrian again came to the spotlight when he revealed that Chelsea Manning was responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of government documents. In 2011, he was found dead in his apartment at the age of 37.
2. Vladimir Levin
Vladimir Levin was a Russian black-hat hacker who wasn’t interested in stealing identities. He was the type that was interested in money and he wanted a lot of it. In 1995, he hacked into Citibank’s computers and allegedly stole more than $10 million. He then re-routed those funds to various global accounts to eliminate detection. The most interesting part of this story is the fact that Levin did all this without the help of the internet. He committed the crime using telecommunications systems, which he had hacked into.
Levin managed to tap conversations where customers were sharing their personal information related to bank accounts and then used that data to access their accounts. He managed to pull off one of the greatest heists in history, except for the fact that he was caught. Authorities apprehended Levin, as well as the money he stole, except for $400,000; which was untraceable. Eventually, Levin plead guilty to one count of crime of theft and was sentenced to three years in jail. He was also forced to pay $240,000 to Citibank.
3. Jeanson James Ancheta
Jeanson James Ancheta, aka, Resilient, is a California native who came to the spotlight in 2004 after hijacking more than 500,000 computers; including the US military’s computers. Ancheta used a worm called “rxbot” to take control of computers across the world and used the army to take down websites by overloading them with spam. He then offered his services for a price for anyone who had a vendetta against a website. The only flaw with his plan? Ancheta was approached by a client to take down a website, who also happened to be an undercover FBI agent.
In 2005, he was apprehended for the crimes and forced to surrender $58,000, which he allegedly made by taking down innocent business websites. He also had to pay a fine of $16,000, give up his BMW, and spend 60 months in prison for the offenses.
4. Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon, a Scottish hacker, was a computer prodigy by the age of 14. He was always curious to know the unknown and had an obsession with infiltrating closely guarded computer networks. McKinnon also wanted to prove that UFOs exist. So, in order to prove this, he hacked into 97 American military networks between 2001 and 2002. After gaining access to confidential systems, he often left taunting messages such as: “Your security is cr*p”.
According to McKinnon, he had found proof of alien spacecrafts but since his internet was slow, he was unable to download the images. The US has tried to extradite him for the crimes but McKinnon took refuge in the UK. In 2012, the UK blocked the U.S. extradition request on human rights grounds; the first time that the U.K. has blocked an extradition request since signing a treaty with the U.S. in 2003.
5. Kevin Poulsen
Kevin Poulsen, aka, Dark Dante, was talented enough to become the first American to be banned from the internet and computers. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, the 20-something year old hacker exploited the LA phone network. Fame only found him when L.A. radio station KIIS FM held a competition where the 102nd caller would win a Porsche. Guess who the 102nd caller was? None other than Kevin Poulsen.
When the radio station suspected foul play, the Feds got involved and Poulsen went into the darkness. He was on the run until the show Unsolved Mysteries aired. During the broadcast of the show, they displayed a phone number for viewers to call-in if they had any information regarding the hacker. Mysteriously, the phone line went down as soon as it was established. He was finally caught after being on the run for 17 months. Poulsen served five years in prison and was banned from using the internet or computer for three years. Today, he works as a writer for Wired and was even responsible for the arrest of a sex offender who was lurking in MySpace.
6. Albert Gonzalez
Albert Gonzalez, aka, CumbaJohnny, Segvec, KingChilli, was a resident of Miami. Gonzalez used his knowledge in hacking to steal credit card information and also founded a website where other black-hat hackers can buy or sell stolen information. It is estimated that more than 170 million credit and debit card information have been swapped through his website with more than 4,000 members.
While in New Jersey, he was finally caught by the Secret Service. Gonzalez was charged with having 15 fake bank cards but he managed to avoid jail time by revealing information about 19 other black-hat hackers. He then returned to Miami and formed a team of 10 who hacked TJX Companies. The 10 man crew managed to steal 45 million credit and debit card numbers over 18 months until 2007 before being caught. On May 2008, Gonzalez was arrested and charged with theft. He won’t be getting out until 2025.
7. Kevin Mitnick
In 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice called him the “most wanted computer criminal in U.S. history”. Also known as The Condor, the black-hat hacker was very talented. Instead of using the word “hacking”, he liked to call it, “social engineering”. At age 15, Mitnick started social engineering to bypass the punch card system for Los Angeles city buses. He would go through the trash to find used tickets as well as convinced a bus driver to reveal information about buying his own ticket punch.
As he grew older, so did his social engineering skills. Mitnick started exploiting networks with companies such as Pacific Bell, Nokia, IBM, Motorola, and a few other companies. He was finally caught in 1995 and a judge ordered solitary confinement for him because he was convinced that Mitnick had the ability to whistle through a phone and start a nuclear war.
Mitnick served 12 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Soon after his punishment was over, he went back to hacking again. The Feds were on his tail but Mitnick managed to evade them for three years, using cloned cell phones to hide his location. Finally in 1999, he was captured and sentenced to four years in prison. Today, he is a white-hat hacker who works as a security consultant and is the author of two books.
8. Jonathan James
Jonathan James, aka, c0mrade, was an intelligent human being, who also gained notoriety for being the first juvenile to be convicted and jailed for hacking in the United States. His curiosity to go far beyond the limitations, led him through a dark path. At the age of 15, James hacked into Bell South, the Miami-Dade school system, NASA, and the Department of Defense. While infiltrating NASA, it is allegedly believed that James stole the source code of the International Space Station, which is said to have been worth $1.7 million.
When NASA learned about the flaw in their security systems, they had to shut down its computers for three weeks to figure out how or who committed the crime; costing them $41,000. James was finally caught and sentenced to six months house arrest and probation until he turned 18. The court also forced him to write apologies to the victims of the crime. In 2007, when Albert Gonzalez’s hacker team stole credit and debit card information from TJX, the Secret Service investigated James.
Although he claimed that he had nothing to do with it, his plea was unheard. Believing that he would be prosecuted for a crime he did not commit, James committed suicide and left a note that said: “I have no faith in the ‘justice’ system. Perhaps my actions today, and this letter, will send a stronger message to the public. Either way, I have lost control over this situation, and this is my only way to regain control“.
9. Higinio Ochoa
Higinio Ochoa, aka, w0rmer, started his hacking career at an early age. He started infiltrating AOL chat rooms but as he grew, so did his skills, curiosity and political views. Ochoa started hacking into U.S. law enforcement websites and revealed private information about the officers on social networking platforms. He was skilled at the game and taunted authorities about their cheap security systems. One day, Ochoa was lurking inside the Alabama Department of Safety’s website when he found the FBI’s criminal database.
He roamed around, took the information he needed and left his signature trademark; a woman in bikini with a printed message. The only issue was that this time, the picture was of his long-distance fiance, who was living in Australia. She took the image using her iPhone with the location services turned on. When the image was uploaded to the internet, the details about the location was embedded; which of course the FBI took advantage of. Ochoa thought he was safe since it was one small mistake of his career.
Sadly for him, the FBI was knocking at his apartment door within two weeks. He was arrested and spent 18 months in prison. Upon his release, a judge decided that it was better off if Ochoa had no internet access at all until his parole was over. Today, he works as a coding expert from his home but is not allowed to touch any devices that have access to the internet. When he’s done coding, he has to print the codes, which his wife sends to a third party to retype and email to his employer.
10. Jan Krissler
Jan Krissler, aka, starbug, is a German computer scientist and hacker who specializes in unlocking iPhones. We all believe that fingerprints are safer than passwords since no one can replicate them. But what if your fingerprint gets stolen? That’s exactly what starbug demonstrated at the annual meeting of hackers in Germany. Krissler demonstrated a method to fake fingerprints using a few high-definition photographs. And his target? German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen.
With the help of a commercial software called VeriFinger and several close-range photos, Krissler was able to successfully reverse-engineer the fingerprint. When it comes to cracking biometric security, Krissler is no stranger. In 2013, just 24 hours after the iPhone 5S was released, he was able to crack the TouchID sensors and gain access. Security researchers suggest that fingerprints and FaceID should not be used solely as means of security, instead be used as a second factor of authentication.