Top 10 Most Famous Hackers of All Time

Get to know these notorious hackers, famous for wreaking havoc and driving technological innovation. The portrayal of hackers in the media has ranged from the high-tech super-spy, as in Mission Impossible where Ethan Hunt repels from the ceiling to hack the CIA computer system and steal the "NOC list," to the lonely anti-social teen who is simply looking for entertainment. The reality, however, is that hackers are a very diverse bunch, a group simultaneously blamed with causing billions of dollars in damages as well as credited with the development of the World Wide Web and the founding of major tech companies. In this article, we test the theory that truth is better than fiction by introducing you to ten of the most famous hackers, both nefarious and heroic, to let you decide for yourself. Black Hat Crackers The Internet abounds with hackers, known as crackers or "black hats," who work to exploit computer systems. They are the ones you've seen on the news being hauled away for cybercrimes. Some of them do it for fun and curiosity, while others are looking for personal gain. In this section we profile five of the most famous and interesting "black hat" hackers. 1. Jonathan James: James gained notoriety when he became the first juvenile to be sent to prison for hacking. He was sentenced at 16 years old. In an anonymous PBS interview, he professes, "I was just looking around, playing around. What was fun for me was a challenge to see what I could pull off." James's major intrusions targeted high-profile organizations. He installed a backdoor into a Defense Threat Reduction Agency server. The DTRA is an agency of the Department of Defense charged with reducing the threat to the U.S. and its allies from nuclear, biological, chemical, conventional and special weapons. The backdoor he created enabled him to view sensitive emails and capture employee usernames and passwords. James also cracked into NASA computers, stealing software worth approximately $1.7 million. According to the Department of Justice, "The software supported the International Space Station's physical environment, including control of the temperature and humidity within the living space." NASA was forced to shut down its computer systems, ultimately racking up a $41,000 cost. James explained that he downloaded the code to supplement his studies on C programming, but contended, "The code itself was crappy . . . certainly not worth $1.7 million like they claimed." Given the extent of his intrusions, if James, also known as "c0mrade," had been an adult he likely would have served at least 10 years. Instead, he was banned from recreational computer use and was slated to serve a six-month sentence under house arrest with

" The CNN article. scrambled phone networks and broke into the national defense warning system." His exploits were detailed in two movies: Freedom Downtime and Takedown. Today." Mitnick went through a highly publicized pursuit by authorities. dabbled in phone phreaking. . Although there were numerous offenses." He then hacked into computer expert and fellow hacker Tsutomu Shimomura's home computer." explains that "he hacked into computers.probation. Citigroup and Cingular. For his intrusion at The New York Times. it's legal. Lamo also hacked into The Times' LexisNexis account to research high-profile subject matter. and is now a computer security consultant. Today. His hits include Yahoo!. author and speaker. Adrian Lamo: Lamo's claim to fame is his break-ins at major organizations like The New York Times and Microsoft.000 in restitution. Mitnick was ultimately convicted for breaking into the Digital Equipment Corporation's computer network and stealing software. which expired January 16. It kind of redefines the term multi-jurisdictional." Lamo reflects. Bank of America. Mitnick had a bit of hacking experience before committing the offenses that made him famous. Lamo is currently working as an award-winning journalist and public speaker. exploited them and then informed companies of their shortcomings. like Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. he served six months in prison for violation of parole. 2007. When white hat hackers are hired by companies to do penetration testing." he used Internet connections at Kinko's. James asserts that he's learned his lesson and might start a computer security company. In a profile article. He started out exploiting the Los Angeles bus punch card system to get free rides. The Department of Justice describes him as "the most wanted computer criminal in United States history. What Lamo did is not. including Social Security numbers. coffee shops and libraries to do his intrusions. Dubbed the "homeless hacker. "He Hacks by Day. However. in which he found flaws in security. things got serious. Then. He served five years. When he broke into The New York Times' intranet. He was also sentenced to six months of home confinement and two years of probation." Lamo's intrusions consisted mainly of penetration testing. His mischief was hyped by the media but his actual offenses may be less notable than his notoriety suggests. 2. Mitnick has been able to move past his role as a black hat hacker and become a productive member of society. He added himself to a list of experts and viewed personal information on contributors. "Legendary computer hacker released from prison. Mitnick's mischief got serious when he went on a two and a half year "coast-to-coast hacking spree. 3. which led to his undoing. Squats by Night. stole corporate secrets. about 8 months of it in solitary confinement. Lamo was ordered to pay approximately $65.C. a change of clothes in D. Kevin Mitnick: A self-proclaimed "hacker poster boy. "I have a laptop in Pittsburgh.

along with current Apple CEO Steve Jobs. however. Morris wrote the code for the worm while he was a student at Cornell. Poulsen's most famous hack. he further drew the ire of the FBI by hacking into federal computers for wiretap information. 400 hours of community service and a fined $10. Since serving time. 5. revolved around telephones. but experts estimate an impact of 6. He was sentenced to three years' probation. Morris is currently working as a tenured professor at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. operate without company permission by bending but not breaking laws and in the process have created some really cool stuff. Others. was accomplished by taking over all of the station's phone lines. He asserts that he intended to use it to see how large the Internet was. when his photo came up on the show Unsolved Mysteries. the first computer worm to be unleashed on the Internet. Poulsen gained recognition for his hack of LA radio's KIIS-FM phone lines. His hacking specialty.000 machines." Later. The worm. co-founded Apple Computer. In this section we profile five white hat hackers and the technologies they have developed. His most prominent article details his work on identifying 744 sex offenders with MySpace profiles." hired by companies to test the integrity of their systems. He principally researches computer network architectures including distributed hash tables such as Chord and wireless mesh networks such as Roofnet.4. son of former National Security Agency scientist Robert Morris. Ultimately. KIIS-FM." These white hats often work as certified "Ethical Hackers. Poulsen has worked as a journalist. however. Law enforcement dubbed him "the Hannibal Lecter of computer crime. Poulsen was captured in a supermarket and served a sentence of five years. 1-800 phone lines for the program crashed. slowing computers down so that they were no longer usable. Wozniak. White Hat Hackers Hackers that use their skills for good are classified as "white hat. He has been . He is now a senior editor for Wired News. is known as the creator of the Morris Worm.500. In a related feat. Poulsen also "reactivated old Yellow Page escort telephone numbers for an acquaintance who then ran a virtual escort agency. It is not possible to know exactly how many computers were affected." Authorities began to pursue Poulsen after he hacked into a federal investigation database. he was the first person prosecuted under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. which earned him a brand new Porsche. 1. Kevin Poulsen: Also known as Dark Dante. Robert Tappan Morris: Morris. During this pursuit. among other items. replicated itself excessively. Stephen Wozniak: "Woz" is famous for being the "other Steve" of Apple. As a result of this crime.

as well as standards from the W3C. In the Letters section of Woz. The Steves sold Wozniak's cherished scientific calculator and Jobs' VW van for capital and got to work assembling prototypes in Jobs' garage." 2. Wozniak called up his buddy Jobs. an M6800 processor and an old television. He has received numerous recognitions. he built his first computer with a soldering iron. is distributed freely with no patent or royalties due. he recalls doing "what Ed Roberts and Bill Gates and Paul Allen did and tons more. a European nuclear research organization. the system that we use to access sites. w3. The pair did research on frequencies. Berners-Lee created a hypertext prototype system that helped researchers share and update information easily. a full-time staff and the public work together to develop Web standards." Since his creation of the World Wide Web. Woz got his start in hacking making blue boxes.org reports. focusing primarily on philanthropy instead.awarded with the National Medal of Technology as well as honorary doctorates from Kettering University and Nova Southeastern University. Wozniak even used a blue box to call the Pope while pretending to be Henry Kissinger. Berners-Lee was caught hacking access with a friend and subsequently banned from University computers. devices that bypass telephone-switching mechanisms to make free long-distance calls. Most notable is his function as fairy godfather to the Los Gatos. most notably the Millennium Technology Prize. Berners-Lee recounts how he put them together: "I just had to take the hypertext idea and connect it to the TCP and DNS ideas and – ta-da! – the World Wide Web." Technological innovation seems to have run in his genes. The W3C describes itself as "an international consortium where Member organizations. with no help. Berners-Lee founded the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT. Tim Berners-Lee: Berners-Lee is famed as the inventor of the World Wide Web. then built and sold blue boxes to their classmates in college. While working with CERN. School District. Jobs had the bright idea to sell the computer as a fully assembled PC board. "Wozniak 'adopted' the Los Gatos School District. Woz was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in September 2000. Wozniak dropped out of college and came up with the computer that eventually made him famous. He later realized that hypertext could be joined with the Internet. as Berners-Lee's parents were mathematicians who worked on the Manchester Mark1. providing students and teachers with hands-on teaching and donations of state-of-the-art technology equipment.org. Additionally. TTL gates. After reading an article about phone phreaking in Esquire. While a student at Oxford University. Wozniak designed the hardware and most of the software.66 each. Woz no longer works full time for Apple. one of the earliest electronic computers. . "Whilst [at Oxford]. Calif." Wozniak and Jobs sold the first 100 of the Apple I to a local dealer for $666. documents and files on the Internet." Berners-Lee's World Wide Web idea.

" At this time. using the Minix operating system as inspiration. modify. Linus Torvalds: Torvalds fathered Linux. coordinating the code that volunteer programmers contribute to the kernel. the GNU/Linux version of the operating system uses the Linux kernel started by Torvalds." With this inspiration. He then moved on to a Sinclair QL. A free operating system is essential for people to be able to use computers in freedom. He calls himself "an engineer. Stallman wrote an essay. then sent users messages informing them of the removal of the password system. Stallman broke it down. However." 4. he's known as the father of free software. GNU is distributed under "copyleft. which they did. "the crucial software to use a computer. He was also featured in Time Magazine's "60 Years of Heroes. He has had an asteroid named after him and received honorary doctorates from Stockholm University and University of Helsinki. He was a critic of restricted computer access in the lab. After that. he and other hackers were allowed to modify code on printers so that they sent convenient alert messages. The success of this public invitation to contribute code for Linux is touted as one of the most prominent examples of free/open source software. Wikipedia reports that he modified the Sinclair "extensively." and has said that his aspirations are simple. he put out a call for others to contribute code. For this. When a password system was installed. forbidden to share it and unable to change it." Torvalds created the Linux kernel in 1991." a method that employs copyright law to allow users to use." in which he recalls choosing to work on an operating system because it's a foundation. resetting passwords to null strings. copy and distribute the software. Currently. "I just want to have fun making the best damn operating system I can. the very popular Unix-based operating system. At the MIT lab." Torvalds got his start in computers with a Commodore VIC-20. an 8-bit home computer. he began work on GNU. Stallman's crusade for free software started with a printer. Currently. especially its operating system. who prefers to be called rms. Richard Stallman: Stallman's fame derives from the GNU Project. "The GNU Project. . only about 2 percent of the current Linux kernel is written by Torvalds himself.3." Stallman. His "Serious Bio" asserts. Torvalds serves as the Linux ringleader. a new printer came along – one that they were not allowed to modify. which he founded to develop a free operating system. got his start hacking at MIT. He worked as a "staff hacker" on the Emacs project and others. It was at this point that he was "convinced…of the ethical need to require free software. Torvalds hacks included "an assembler and a text editor…as well as a few games. He started with a task switcher in Intel 80386 assembly and a terminal driver. It was located away from the lab and the absence of the alerts presented an inconvenience." Specifically. "Non-free software keeps users divided and helpless.

Following the pursuit. . Tsutomu Shimomura: Shimomura reached fame in an unfortunate manner: he was hacked by Kevin Mitnick. He works against movements like Digital Rights Management (or as he prefers. Following this personal attack. including awards. Shimomura's work to catch Mitnick is commendable. listening to him. 5. he made it his cause to help the FBI capture him. Armed with a technician from the phone company. pulls it out of the shrinkwrap. he rallied a team and got to work finding Mitnick. which was later turned into a movie." Shimomura out-hacked Mitnick to bring him down. they tracked him near Raleigh-Durham International Airport.Stallman's life continues to revolve around the promotion of free software. Author Bruce Sterling recalls: "He pulls out this AT&T cellphone. Shimomura wrote a book about the incident with journalist John Markoff. but he is not without his own dark side. Using Mitnick's cell phone. Shortly after finding out about the intrusion. He has received extensive recognition for his work. The article. Shimomura "used a cellular frequency direction-finding antenna hooked up to a laptop to narrow the search to an apartment complex. and starts monitoring phone calls going up and down Capitol Hill while an FBI agent is standing at his shoulder. Digital Restrictions Management) through organizations like Free Software Foundation and League for Programming Freedom. "SDSC Computer Experts Help FBI Capture Computer Terrorist" recounts how Shimomura pinpointed Mitnick's location. finger-hacks it." Mitnick was arrested shortly thereafter. fellowships and four honorary doctorates.