The 11 Most Famous Hackers

1. Kevin Mitnick is the first modern hacker. As a kid, he hacked anything he could get his hands on including telephones and LA bus tickets. When he discovered computers, all bets were off. He hacked Digital Equipment Corporation, and while he was in prison for that, he hacked Pacific Bell. When he was released for the DEC crime, a new search warrant was issued for his breech of Pacific Bell but he was long gone. He lived as a fugitive for two and a half years, and eventually served five years in prison. Today he is a computer security consultant. Of course.

2. Kevin Poulson. A black-hat hacker, he took over the phone lines s for Los Angeles radio station KIIS-FM, guaranteeing that he would be the 102nd caller and win the prize of a Porsche 944 S2. He too was a fugitive pursued by the FBI. Today he is an editor at Wired.

3. Adrian Lamo gained notoriety breaking into several high-profile computer networks, including The New York Times, Yahoo!, and Microsoft. In 2010, Lamo reported U.S. soldier Bradley / Chelsea Manning to Army Counterintelligence and United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, claiming that Manning had leaked hundreds of thousands of sensitive U.S. government documents to WikiLeaks. Today he is a threat analyst.

4. Jonathan Joseph James was the first juvenile incarcerated for cybercrime in the United States. The South Florida native was 15 years old at the time of the first offense of intruding into BellSouth and the Miami-Date school system computer networks. Then he made a big mistake and broke into the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, a department of the Department of Defense. He installed a program that allowed him to intercept thousands of messages to and from DTRA employees, as well as user names and passwords of DTRA employees. That wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was he also stole NASA’s source code controlling critical life-sustaining elements for the International Space Station. He was given a suspended sentence, then screwed that up by violating the terms of the sentence. Ultimately he served six months in federal prison (at the age of 16). In January 2007 he was implicated in a hacker ring (it is unknown whether he was truly involved or not).

On May 18, 2008, Jonathan James was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. “I honestly, honestly had nothing to do with TJX,” James wrote in his suicide note, “I have no faith in the ‘justice’ system. Perhaps my actions today, and this letter, will send a stronger message to the public. Either way, I have lost control over this situation, and this is my only way to regain control.”

5. David L. Smithis the author of the notorious Melissa worm virus, the first successful email-aware virus distributed in the Usenet discussion group alt. sex. Smith was arrested and later sentenced to jail for causing over $80 million worth of damage.

6. You can thank Robert Tappan Morris for inventing the world’s first known computer worm. In 1988, he created the Morris Worm while at Cornell University. He also made a really interesting discovery: computers could be infected multiple times by the same program. His project rendered over 6,000 computers unusable.When he was caught, he claimed his program was an attempt to gauge the size of the internet. That sounded as ridiculous to the authorities as it does to you reading this right now, so he was the first person convicted under the brand-new Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. But that is not the end of Robert Tappan Morris’ story. Proving that life isn’t fair, he later founded the Y-Combinator and is now a tenured professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. So remember kids, break shit. It’ll pay off later.

7. Nahshon Even-Chaim targeted defense and nuclear weapons research networks, which is why the Man was so hot to stop that nonsense. He routinely broke into American universities and NASA (though he was Australian, which really grates.) His home in Melbourne was finally raided and he was charged with 48 offenses; he pleaded guilty to 15 charges and was sentences to 500 hours of community service. He is the only hacker on the list who knows how to keep his mouth shut: he never explained why or how he broke into networks, and despite being approached by media, he’s never given an interview.

8. SamyKamkar dropped out of high school at 16 and one year later, co-founded Fonality, a communications company based on open source software, which raised over $46 million in private funding, proving once and for all that those stay-in-school talks were just propaganda. He’s best known for creating the fastest spreading virus of all time, the MySpace worm Samy. Though in retrospect he didn’t do anything to Myspace that Myspace didn’t do to itself, the US Secret Service arrested him and charged him under the Patriot Act. He also created Evercookie, which appeared in a NSA document, revealed by Edward Snowden and landed on the front page of the New York Times. And lastly, he is known for discovering that Apple iPhone, Google Android and Microsoft Windows phones transmit GPS and Wi-Fi information to their parent companies.

9. Hamza Bendelladj is the most brazen and unreformed hacker on the list. He created a Trojan horse called SpyEye, and used it to break into 217 American banks where he stole a breathtaking $400 million. He then gave the loot to Africa and Palestine. He then sold SpyEye to other hackers, which caused untold damage. He was arrested in Thailand in 2013. In April 2016, he pleaded guilty to 23 charges and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

10. Loyd Blankenship has been an active hacker since the 1970s and is known for authoring an essay called Mentor’s Last Words (also known as the Hacker Manifesto), which he wrote after being arrested in 1986. The essay is considered a foundation for hacking culture. He no longer spends his days hacking; he’s a musician and freelance game developer.

11. Julian Assange began hacking at the age of 16 under the name “Mendax.” He cracked government networks, corporate systems and educational facilities such as the Pentagon, NASA, Lockheed Martin, Citibank, and Stanford University. In 2006, he created Wikileaks as a platform for publishing news leaks and classified documents. The US government would dearly love to charge him, but he’s been out of their grasp since 2010, when he went into hiding at the Ecuador embassy in London.

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