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

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

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

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

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

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