Claims to fame: High-profile hackers and what happened next

Some of the most high-profile computing criminals and alleged hackers - and it seems many turn to journalism after.
Topic: Security
1 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Albert Gonzalez was accused of being the orchestrator of one of the biggest fraud operations in history -- credit card theft and reselling details from 2005 to 2007 through the use of SQL database injections. Over 170 million card and ATM numbers were stolen through malware backdoors on corporate systems.

These backdoors were able to launch ARP Spoofing attacks -- which in turn granted the opportunity to steal sensitive data.

During the operation, Gonzalez is reported to have thrown himself a $75,000 birthday party and enjoyed a cash-filled lifestyle -- often staying at lavish hotels. However, in 2008, he was arrested after hacking into the Dave & Buster's corporate network from a sales point in New York, where approximately 5,000 card numbers were stolen.

In raids, authorities seized $1.6 million in cash, his laptops and a Glock pistol. In March 2010, he received two concurrent 20 year terms.

2 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

David Smith. A common enough name, but in the word of viruses, Smith is notorious for one achievement -- the release of the Melissa worm, which was the first successful email-distributed infection of its kind.

Based on a Microsoft Word macro, the virus 'Melissa' -- apparently named after an exotic dancer -- was released into the wild through the Usenet discussion group alt. sex.

The virus worked by asking email recipients to open a document with a message such as 'Here is the document you asked for'. After opening, the virus replicated itself and spread through the first 50 email address contacts in the victim's address book.

According to statements released by the FBI, the Melissa virus "wreaked havoc" on governmental networks, and for some companies, email platforms were frozen until the virus was controlled due to the rapid increase in traffic. Smith was eventually given a 20-month jail sentence, a fine of $5,000 and was barred from computer network access without authorization.


3 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Gary McKinnon was once accused of being the "biggest military computer hack of all time" by a U.S. prosecutor. Born in 1966, McKinnon was accused of trawling through NASA computing systems and those of the U.S. defense department.

He stated it was to find evidence of free energy suppression and to look for information on UFO activity.

After leaving a trail of rude messages about the state of the system's security, he was arrested by British police. No evidence has been discovered so far of any damage done to the systems in question.

More than a decade has passed, but McKinnon is currently fighting extradition to the United States. He was placed at "extreme" risk of suicide if extradited in a recent psychiatric assessment, and Nick Clegg is reported to have said:

"Gary McKinnon is a vulnerable young man and I see no compassion in sending him thousands of miles away from his home and loved ones to stand trial. If he has questions to answer, there is a clear argument to be made that he should answer them in a British court."


4 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Jonathan James became famous for being the first juvenile to be carted off to prison for illegal computing activity. At 16 years old, James targeted high-profile organizations including an agency of the Department of Defense, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and NASA.

In an interview, he said:

"I was just looking around, playing around. What was fun for me was a challenge to see what I could pull off."

It ended up being a little more than a few challenges. James installed a backdoor into the DTRA's server so he was able to view sensitive emails and catch profile details, and in the case of NASA, he hacked into computers and stole software worth approximately $1.7 million, according to reports.

NASA ended up shutting down its computer systems, resulting in costs of $41,000 according to the Department of Justice. James aka 'c0mrade' would have possibly faced a minimum of ten years in prison if he was an adult at the time. Instead, he was banned from recreational computer use, and after breaking a house arrest parole, ended up in prison for six months.


5 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Kevin Mitnick, described by the U.S. Department of Justice as "the most wanted computer criminal in United States history", was known as a self-styled 'poster boy' for hacking.

Famous for allegedly accessing high-profile computer systems of companies including Nokia, Fujitsu and Motorola, Mitnick became a player in a highly publicized dance and chase by authorities before being arrested in 1995.

Mitnick was convicted for breaking into the Digital Equipment Corporation's computer network and stealing software. Before that particular stunt, he was known for exploiting bus punch card systems in LA and phone phreaking.

He pleaded guilty to several charges as part of a plea bargain and served a 5-year sentence -- 8 months reportedly in solitary confinement -- before being released on parole. Today, Mitnick runs a computer security consultancy and is a public speaker and author.

6 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Loyd Blankenship, also known as 'The Mentor', was a member of several hacker elite groups in the 1980s. The most famous was called the 'Legion of Doom' -- a group who stipulated they fought against rivals the 'Masters Of Deception' for online supremacy.

However, Blankenship is more famously known for writing the 'Hacker Manifesto' -- The Conscience of a Hacker -- which was written after his arrest in 1986. The book in question is still used by hackers today, and by some is considered a cornerstone of hacker philosophy -- namely that curiosity is the main crime of hackers, rather than simply conniving to break the law.

7 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Kevin Poulsen, aka Dark Dante, was first noticed after hacking into the phone lines of LA-based radio station KIIS-FM, in order to make sure he was the 102nd caller -- and landing himself the prize of a Porsche as a result.

However, his antics didn't stop there. He also reactivated old Yellow Pages escort numbers for a friend who ran a virtual agency, hacked into a federal investigation database for wiretap information, and was dubbed "the Hannibal Lecter of computer crime."

He even appeared on television show Unsolved Mysteries -- and strangely enough, all of the phone lines mysteriously crashed.

Ultimately, Poulsen was snagged in a supermarket and served five years in prison. After his release, Poulson reinvented himself as a journalist -- and is known for a Wired article on identifying 774 sex offenders with MySpace profiles.  


8 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

In 2004, Sven Jaschan was found guilt of writing both the Netsky and Sasser worms whilst he was still a teenager. At that point in time, the viruses were considered responsible for 70 percent of all malware present online.

As he was still a teenager, after being convicted, Jaschan was given a suspended sentence and three years probation. However, there was a silver lining -- he was later hired by a security firm.



9 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Adrian Lamo -- nicknamed the 'homeless hacker' due to his delight in using coffee shops, libraries and Internet cafés as his bases, rather than home.

Lamo's claims to fame include breaking into the networks of major organizations. Most of the time, he focused on penetration testing, finding security flaws and reporting findings to the companies that owned them. Lamo broke into the intranet of the New York Times and added his name to their database of experts and gaining access to sensitive information including Social Security numbers.

Other hits included Microsoft, Yahoo!, Bank of America, Citigroup and Cingular.

White-hat hackers are hired for this type of testing -- but Lamo was not. Therefore, after his New York Times break-in, he was ordered to pay approximately $65,000, sentenced to six months of home confinement and two years of probation. Lamo is now working as a journalist and public speaker.  



10 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

In 1988 a computer virus infected around 6,000 major Unix machines, replicating itself and slowing the systems down to the point of being completely unusable and reportedly causing millions of dollars in damage.

The hand behind the virus? Robert Tappan Morris. Whether this virus was the first of its type is debatable -- but one thing is set in stone. Morris became the first person to be convicted under the 1988 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Son of former National Security Agency scientist Robert Morris, the 'Morris worm' was coded when he was studying at Cornell. He asserted that the worm wasn't meant to cause any damage; instead, it was intended to 'gauge the size of the Internet'.

This didn't help, however, and Morris was given three years' probation, 400 hours of community service and a fine of $10,500. After his conviction, Morris began working as a professor at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

11 of 11 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Famous as the co-founder of Apple, Stephen "Woz" Wozniak is a little different from other profiles here -- and began a 'white hat' hacking career with 'phone phreaking' -- in other words, ways to bypass a the phone system.

As a student at the University of California, Wozniak made 'blue box' devices for his friends so they could make free long-distance phone calls -- reportedly, one of these items was also used to call the Pope while pretending to be Henry Kissinger.

He later left university to begin working on computer designs, forming the Apple computing system with Steve Jobs. Wozniak designed the hardware and the majority of the software for the first Apple prototypes. Wozniak and Jobs sold the first one hundred of the Apple I to a local dealer for $666.66 each.



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