In today’s advanced digital age, nobody knows how to store data on a piece of paper. Every aspect of our lives, important or not so important, is saved on a computer. This computer, in turn, is connected with every other computer on the planet through a complex web of networks. Security of our data on the computer is always been a raging debate with many a people trying to steal data by hacking into systems.
Hackers have existed for as long as computers themselves, whose core fundamental is to find a loophole in the computer system and exploit it to their benefit. The ultimate loser is us, the user, where our hard-earned money, passwords or personal data is extremely vulnerable. Not all hackers are bad though, some are good and try to protect us where as some are not so kind.
Most Dangerous Hackers
This list, lists down the top 10 hackers of all time who have caused the maximum amount of damage to our personal data and have raised big question marks with regards to internet and computer security.
1. Jonathan James
Jonathan James has been credited with being the first juvenile to be incarcerated for cybercime in the United States. He was aged 16, when charged with hacking into the computer systems of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a division of the Department of Defense. He installed a backdoor into the DTRA server that allowed him access to all forms of communication in and out of the computer system and numerous usernames and passwords. He also hacked in the NASA systems and stole softwares that controlled essential life sustaining equipment on-board space ships.
James was later traced and arrested but since he was a minor, faced six months of house arrest, probation till he turned 18, made to apologise to all the departments that he hacked into and was banned from using a computer for recreational use.
In 2007, when the departmental store, TJX reported a hack into their computer system and a compromise of sensitive customer information, the Secret Service include Jonthan’s name in the list of those believed to be a part of the act. Although no evidence was found against Jonathan, he was still not dropped from the list of suspects which led him to ultimately kill himself in 2008. His suicide is believed to be caused due to tall the mental pressure he was being made to undertake for a crime he believed he was never involved in.
2. Kevin ‘Dark Dante’ Poulsen
Kevin Poulsen has two attributes that make him stand out from the rest of the hackers. He was the first American who was made to serve an internet and computer ban after being released from prison and was had gained a specialty in hacking only through telephone lines. He first gained attention when he hacked into an L.A. radio network so that he could be the 102nd caller and would win a new Porsche. He had also reactivated all old Yellow Page escort service phone numbers so that his friend could operate a virtual escort service. When his name once came up in a TV show called Unsolved Mysteries, the 1-800 numbers of the TV station mysteriously crashed.
After being released from Prison, Kevin decided to put away his past and instead became a journalist. He is currently the senior editor for Wired News and his most notable article is where he managed to obtain a list of sex offenders from MySpace. His article led to one arrest.
3. Nashon Even-Chaim
Also known as Phoenix, Nashon Even-Chaim is known to be one of the most skilled and arrogant hackers within a group of hackers called ‘The Realm’ which was based out of Melbourne, Australia. Nashon’s investigation was centered around undercover police investigation and informants due to an undeveloped cybercrime wing within Australia in the 1980’s. His arrest was the first in the world where remote data intercept was used in order to gain evidence for a computer crime prosecution.
Nashon’s prime targets during his active years was the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, University of California, Berkley, NASA, Execucom, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Purdue University. After release, Nashon is now chasing a career of music and declines to interact with the press and media.
4. Adrian Lamo
Many hackers do what they do to earn money and fame and are hence known as ‘Black Hat’ hackers where as those who do it to improve internet security and to prevent the Black Hats from entering are called ‘White Hat’ hackers. Adrian Lamo, on the other hand, has been known as a ‘Grey Hat’ hacker since he has done work for either side.
He first gained attention when he managed to hack into the systems of many high-profile companies such as Yahoo, Microsoft, The New York Times and many others. When Lamo was arrested for breaking into their systems unauthorized, he claimed that he has done these companies a favor by highlighting the loopholes in their system and has actually saved them a lot of money. Lamo serving a 6-month detention term and was made to paid $65,000 in fine for his acts.
In 2009, Lamo once again came in the news for his alleged role in Wikileaks and his role in helping donate sensitive material to the website. Lamo later uncovered the role of a U.S. Soldier PFC Bradley Manning who has been misusing his role to collect classified data and selling it to Wikileaks. Adrian has claimed he has done so because many lives were in danger since Manning was active on-duty when he did this. Lamo has ever since been keeping a low profile and fears for his life after the Manning episode.
5. Kevin Mitnick
We often watch movies showing hackers doing insane things on their computers, law enforcement agencies chasing them down and the news media covering every bit of it. Kevin Mitnick’s story is quite similar to any Hollywood Hacking Movie. At the time of his arrest, he was the most wanted person in relation to computer crimes.
His first brush with hacking came about when he learnt the concept of social engineering and learnt of a system to bypass the punch card system on the L.A. bus. At the age of 16, he hacked into various computer systems and copying softwars, an allegation for which he was charged 9 years later in 1988. Having made to serve twelve months in prison and three years of supervised release, Mitnick continued to hack into various systems for which fresh charges were framed against him. Mitnick fled and was on the run for more than two and a half years using cloned cell phones to hide his location. Mitnick was finally arrested in 1995 and sent to prison for 4 years in 1999.
Mitnick’s conviction gained a lot of media coverage and controversies. His prison term was in solitary confinement after the judge was convinced that Mitnick can start a nuclear war simply by whistling into a telephone system to activate NORAD’s codes. His conviction has also been blamed by over-exaggeration by the media on his capabilities and misinformation of what computers are capable of doing.
After release, Mitnick now runs an IT security company called Mitnick Security Consulting LLC that helps companies prevent hackers from infiltrating their system. He is also an advisory member and on the board for many IT and security companies.
6. Albert Gonzales
The only motive for Albert Gonzales was to make money, a lot of it and really fast. Gonzales started a group of hackers called as the Shadowcrew group. There were more than 4,000 members on the website who aided in trafficking 1.5 million credit, debit and ATM card numbers. The website taught it’s users on how to sell these cards, create fake documents and a host of other things they needed to know. Gonzales avoided a jail term by spilling the beans on the Shadowcrew group and providing information of all this associates.
From mid-2005 to the ending of 2007 Gonzales managed to hack into the computer systems of the TJX group of retailers servers and steal over 45 million card details. He and his crew were able to pull it off by using unsecured wi-fi connections along U.S. Route 1. Gonzales was finally arrested in 2008 and is currently serving a prison term, which is due to end in 2025.
Albert Gonzales was known for having a lavish lifestyle, staying for days in fancy hotel rooms and throwing a $75,000 birthday party.
7. Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon has been labeled by the media for carrying out the biggest computer hack of all time and being one of the most dangerous computer hackers in the world. He has been credited with carrying out the biggest and most dangerous attack on the U.S. military computer servers and deleting vital information, softwares, data and files over a period of 1 year whilst sitting in London. His actions have costed the U.S. government more $70,000 for undoing whatever McKinnon had done. His act had left thousands of computers inoperable for a period of 24 hours. McKinnon argues that he carried out this activity to uncover information that the U.S. government may be hiding from the general public like technology and the likelihood of extra-terrestrial life.
Investigation against McKinnon started in the year of 2002 with the U.S. government demanding an extradition. McKinnon and his lawyers have long countered the extradition to the U.S citing the possibility of inhumane conditions in America, health grounds and stating the lack of necessity to face trial in the U.S. The debate of whether or not McKinnon should be extradited to the U.S. is still raging in the British parliament with the likelihood of his trial taking place within the UK.
Recently he turns into a search expert (Source: BBC News)
8. Michael Demon Calce
Today internet security is extremely stringent and websites are extremely particular about the safety of their data and their customer information. Much of today’s stringent internet security is all due to an act that Michael Demon Calce demonstrated back in the year 2000. At the time, Yahoo! was the most popular website on the internet and was the most used search engine. Calce targeted the Yahoo! systems and shut down the service for more than an hour. He also went ahead and shut down ebay, Amazon, Dell, CNN and a host of other leading websites.
Calce was later arrested when he was found bragging about his achievements on an internet chat forum and revealed certain details that was not made public and nobody else would be aware of. Since he was a minor, the Canadian courts let him off lightly with eight months of open custody, one year of probation, a small fine and a limited access to the internet. Since the American economy took a big hit with Calce’s action, IT giants took note of the fact that an underage teenager can hack into their systems which eventually paved the way for modern security measures.
Later, Calce admitted that only the Yahoo! Infiltration was a planned one and the rest were carried out on ‘auto-pilot’ mode by the software that we was using when he left his laptop on when he left for school. Calce is today a journalist, author, consultant and speaker on the topics of internet security.
You can watch out his interview in this video (Mafiaboy on The Hour with Stromboulopoulos):
9. Jeanson James Ancheta
Jeanson James Ancheta became the first person to be charged with controlling large numbers of hijacked computers or botnets. Botnets were often used by hackers for malicious activity but Ancheta upped the game when he publicized his achievement and advertised his collection of bots on various internet chat rooms. He put up prices that he would charge people for renting out the machines and how many bots would one require to take down a certain kind of website. He supposedly hijacked more than half a million computers using botnets.
Ancheta was arrested in 2005 after a sting operation and was sentenced to a 5 year prison term, made to forfeit his car, all his profit and made to pay a fine for all the damages he caused.
10. Chad Davis
Chad Davis has been a part of one of the most high-profile prosecution of ‘cyber criminals’ in the late 20th century. Chad Davis was a part of team of hackers who started globalHell, a syndicate of hackers. Their biggest achievement was for vandalising the White House website homepage. Since Chad Davis was a minor at that time, he was not charged except for a can of beer found in his refrigerator. In retaliation to the arrest of fellow globalHell members, Davis took down the U.S. Military’s website with a message ‘globalHell will not die’ and shutting it down for four hours. Subsequently Davis was taken in custody and was sentenced to six months in prison, three years of probation a fine and forbade him from using a computer.
Upon release, Davis has been a speaker and often talks about the importance of internet security. He is now a security consultant and often advises companies on how to improvise their security against hackers.
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A computer is still a machine, after all, made by humans and humans make mistakes. We might think that our emails and credit card details are safe behind multiple security layers and passwords, but nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes and it is these hackers that exploit human and computer error to their benefit and steal our valuable data. Humans are evolving and in today’s electronic world, we cannot possibly revert to the paper and pen method of data storage. There is nothing much that we can do about it except being cautious and ensuring that wherever our data is stored, it is in the hands of someone who is less likely to lose it to a bunch of money and power hungry hackers. I hope you enjoyed the post. If you know any other such hackers. Do let me know via comments.