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

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

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

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

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

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