There are two types of hackers. First, you’ve got the kind that is so often portrayed by Hollywood as an anti-social nerd with a chip on his shoulder out to dominate the cyberworld by breaking into secure networks and messing things up. Second, you’ve got the kind of people who just enjoy fiddling around with software source code and hardware gigs.
That’s right. The term “hacker” originally referred to the second type, which held absolutely no malevolent connotations. Only recently has the term been used to refer primarily to criminal masterminds. There are good hackers and bad hackers! Nowadays, benevolent hackers are often called “white hats” while the more sinister are called “black hats.”
In this article, I’ll be talking specifically about famous hackers that don hats of black. Here are five of the most widely known black hatters and what happened to them for their recklessness.
Jonathan James was known as “c0mrade” on the Internet. What is his ticket to fame? He was convicted and sent to prison for hacking in the United States–all while he was still a minor. At only fifteen years of age, he managed to hack into a number of networks, including those belonging to Bell South, Miami-Dade, the U.S. Department of Defense, and NASA.
Yes, James hacked into NASA’s network and downloaded enough source code to learn how the International Space Station worked. The total value of the downloaded assets equaled $1.7 million. To add insult to injury, NASA had to shut down their network for three whole weeks while they investigated the breach, which cost them $41,000.
The story of James has a tragic ending, however. In 2007, a number of high profile companies fell victim to a massive wave of malicious network attacks. Even though James denied any involvement, he was suspected and investigated. In 2008, James committed suicide, believing he would be convicted of crimes that he did not commit.
Kevin Mitnick’s journey as a computer hacker has been so interesting and compelling that the U.S. Department of Justice called him the “most wanted computer criminal in U.S. history.” His story is so wild that it was the basis for two featured films.
What did he do? After serving a year in prison for hacking into the Digital Equipment Corporation’s network, he was let out for 3 years of supervised release. Near the end of that period, however, he fled and went on a 2.5-year hacking spree that involved breaching the national defense warning system and stealing corporate secrets.
Mitnick was eventually caught and convicted, ending with a 5-year prison sentence. After serving those years fully, he became a consultant and public speaker for computer security. He now runs Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC.
Albert Gonzalez paved his way to Internet fame when he collected over 170 million credit card and ATM card numbers over a period of 2 years. Yep. That’s equal to a little over half the population of the United States.
Gonzalez started off as the leader of a hacker group known as ShadowCrew. This group would go on to steal 1.5 million credit card numbers and sell them online for profit. ShadowCrew also fabricated fraudulent passports, health insurance cards, and birth certificates for identity theft crimes totaling $4.3 million stolen.
The big bucks wouldn’t come until later, when Gonzalez hacked into the databases of TJX Companies and Heartland Payment Systems for their stored credit card numbers. In 2010, Gonzalez was sentenced to prison for 20 years (2 sentences of 20 years to be served out simultaneously).
Kevin Poulsen, also known as “Dark Dante,” gained his fifteen minutes of fame by utilizing his intricate knowledge of telephone systems. At one point, he hacked a radio station’s phone lines and fixed himself as the winning caller, earning him a brand new Porsche. According to media, he was called the “Hannibal Lecter of computer crime.”
He then earned his way onto the FBI’s wanted list when he hacked into federal systems and stole wiretap information. Funny enough, he was later captured in a supermarket and sentenced to 51 months in prison, as well paying $56,000 in restitution.
Like Kevin Mitnick, Poulsen changed his ways after being released from prison. He began working as a journalist and is now a senior editor for Wired News. At one point, he even helped law enforcement to identify 744 sex offenders on MySpace.
Gary McKinnon was known by his Internet handle, “Solo.” Using that name, he coordinated what would become the largest military computer hack of all time. The allegations are that he, over a 13-month period from February 2001 to March 2002, illegally gained access to 97 computers belonging to the U.S. Armed Forces and NASA.
McKinnon claimed that he was only searching for information related to free energy suppression and UFO activity cover-ups. But according to U.S. authorities, he deleted a number of critical files, rendering over 300 computers inoperable and resulting in over $700,000 in damages.
Being of Scottish descent and operating out of the United Kingdom, McKinnon was able to dodge the American government for a time. As of today, he continues to fight against extradition to the United States.
Now, do you know any famous hackers who should be in this hall of infamy? Put his (or her) name down in the comments.