Not all hackers are bad. The good ones are called “white-hat hackers” and use hacking to improve computer security. The ones who are just having fun are called “gray-hat hackers.” But the malicious kind you’re thinking of? They’re called “black-hat hackers.”
And they can cause a lot of harm, as history has shown. Here are some of the most infamous and nefarious “black hatters,” what they did to earn their reputations, and where they are today.
1. Kevin Mitnick
The U.S. Department of Justice called him the “most wanted computer criminal in U.S. history” — that’s how notorious he was. Kevin Mitnick’s story is so wild that it was even the basis for a featured film: Track Down.
What did he do? After serving a year in prison for hacking into the Digital Equipment Corporation’s network, he was let out for three years of supervised release. But near the end of that period, he fled and went on a 2.5-year hacking spree that involved breaching the national defense warning system and stealing corporate secrets.
Where is he now? Mitnick was eventually caught and convicted with a five-year prison sentence. After fully serving those years, he became a consultant and public speaker for computer security. He now runs Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC.
2. Jonathan James
The story of Jonathan James, known as “c0mrade,” is a tragic one. He began hacking at a young age, managing to hack into several commercial and government networks and being sent to prison for it — all while he was still a minor.
What did he do? James eventually hacked into NASA’s network and downloaded enough source code — assets equaling $1.7 million — to learn how the International Space Station worked. NASA had to shut down its network for three entire weeks while they investigated the breach, costing an additional $41,000.
Where is he now? In 2007, several high-profile companies fell victim to numerous 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 he didn’t commit.
3. Albert Gonzalez
Gonzalez started off as the leader of a hacker group called ShadowCrew. In addition to stealing and selling credit card numbers, ShadowCrew also fabricated fraudulent passports, health insurance cards, and birth certificates for identity theft crimes.
What did he do? Albert Gonzalez paved his way to internet fame when he collected over 170 million credit card and ATM card numbers over a period of two years. He then hacked into the databases of TJX Companies and Heartland Payment Systems to steal all of their stored credit card numbers as well.
Where is he now? Gonzalez was sentenced to prison for 20 years (two sentences of 20 years to be served simultaneously) and is scheduled for release in 2025.
4. Kevin Poulsen
Kevin Poulsen, also known as “Dark Dante,” earned his 15 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 the “Hannibal Lecter of computer crime.”
What did he do? Poulsen got himself onto the FBI’s wanted list when he hacked into federal systems and stole wiretap information. He was later captured in a supermarket (of all places) and sentenced to 51 months in prison and a bill for $56,000 in restitution.
the largest military computer hack of all time.
What did he do? Over a 13-month period from February 2001 to March 2002, McKinnon illegally accessed 97 computers belonging to the U.S. Armed Forces and NASA. He claimed he was only searching for information on free energy suppression and UFO cover-ups, but according to U.S. authorities he deleted a number of critical files and rendered over 300 computers inoperable, resulting in over $700,000 in damages.
Where is he now? Being of Scottish descent and operating out of the United Kingdom, McKinnon was able to dodge the American government until 2005, when he faced extradition. After a series of appeals, Theresa May blocked his extradition on the grounds that he was “seriously ill” and that extradition would be “incompatible with [his] human rights.”
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