“Hacker” is a term used to refer to a variety of individuals and communities. Generally a hacker is somebody whose mission is to break into remote computers without proper authorisation through the use of communication networks, the most common of which is the internet.
Though the term “hacker” essentially refers to somebody (normally computer programmers) who can subvert computer security without any malicious purpose, the definition of the word has evolved into a term referring to computer criminals who exploit their computer savvy abilities to illegally access computer systems for malicious purposes. Here is a list of the top most notorious hackers to ever get caught.
In the world of web where we get the global connectivity, it is far easier to break into someone’s personal zone. By personal, we do not just mean the social media. The world wide web which has become the hub of storing and restoring information, considered to be the safest vault, is a mere toy in the hands of a few computer geniuses. Hackers, Black Hat Hackers, villains, crackers, cyber-criminals, cyber pirates as they are well-known, throw a malicious software or virus at a system to gain the access to the desired information. Piqued by curiosity, they may perhaps break into your system too.
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.
If you know any other such hackers, do let us know via comments.
The concept of being a “digital Robin Hood” was far from being conceived, but in the computer age, it is very likely that someone somewhere has bagged this title.
A “hacktivist group” called Anonymous are known with the penname of being the “digital Robin Hood” amongst its supporters. Identified in public by wearing a Guy Fawkes Masks, Anons, as they are widely known, have publicized themselves by attacking the government, religious and corporate websites. The Vatican, the FBI, the CIA, PayPal, Sony, Mastercard, Visa, Chinese, Israeli, Tunisian, and Ugandan governments have been amongst their targets.
Although, Anons have been arguing whether to engage in a serious activism or a mere entertainment, many of the group members have clarified their intent which is to attack internet censorship and control.
The Shadow Brokers
The Shadow Brokers is an unknown computer threat actor responsible for several leaks of specifically, exploits and vulnerabilities targeting enterprise firewalls, anti-virus products and Microsoft products, tied to the Equation Group threat actor, NSA’s Tailored Access Operations. While some believe the group to be a disgruntled intelligence agent, others say Russia and others say a collection of hackers. We may never know but that’s looking increasingly unlikely per Edward Snowden who said via Twitter: “NSA should be able to instantly identify where this set came from and how they lost it. If they can’t, it’s a scandal.”
LulzSec or Lulz Security, a high profile, Black Hat hacker group, gained credentials for hacking into Sony, News International, CIA, FBI, Scotland Yard, and several noteworthy accounts. So notorious was the group that when it hacked into News Corporations account, they put across a false report of Rupert Murdoch having passed away. While the group claims to have retired from their vile duties, the motto of the group, “Laughing at your security since 2011!” stays alive. There are assertions of the group having hacked into the websites of the newspapers like The Times and The Sun to post its retirement news. Many, however, claim that this group had taken it upon itself to create awareness about the absence of efficient security against hackers.
Phineas is best known as being the hacker who claimed responsibility for breaching Gamma International (The makers of the FinFisher spyware) and Hacking Team. In the case of the Gamma hack, he shared a torrent of roughly 40 GB of data stating on reddit that he had “hard proof they knew they were selling (and still are) to people using their software to attack Bahraini activists, along with a whole lot of other stuff in that 40GB.” In May 2016, he attacked the Catalan police Mossos D’Esquadra and posted a 39 minute video showing how he got the data from it. He has stated that he does not wish to start a formal movement citing anonymous and LulzSec as examples, but he doesn’t want to be the only hacker fighting the system.
Astra, a Sanskrit word for weapon was the penname of a hacker who dealt in the weapon stealing and selling. A 58-year-old Greek Mathematician hacked into the systems of France’s Dassault Group, stole vulnerable weapons technology data and sold it to different countries for five long years. While the real identity of the ASTRA remains untraced, officials have said that he had been wanted since 2002. Astra sold the data to approximately 250 people from around the globe, which cost Dassault $360 millions of damage.
Guccifer, who also goes by Marcel Lehel Lazar, is best known for exposing the existence of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. He’s hacked several American political figures, and was the first to distribute photos of former president George Bush’s paintings. He also reportedly was able to hack into former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s email and Facebook accounts. The United States had him extradited from Romania in March 2016.
Gary McKinnon must’ve been a curious, restless child, for to gain information on UFOs, he thought it better to get a direct access into the channels of NASA. He infiltrated 97 US military and NASA computers, by installing virus and deleting a few files. All the efforts to satisfy his curiosity, but, alas, curiosity killed the cat. It was soon found that McKinnon was guilty of having hacked the military and NASA websites from his girlfriend’s aunt’s house in London. While entering and deleting the files from these websites wasn’t enough, McKinnon thought of shaming the security forces by putting out a notice on the website that said, “Your security is crap.” Well, looks like McKinnon was something, if he could shut down the US Military’s Washington Network of about 2000 computers for 24 hours, making the hack, the biggest military computer hack of all time!
George Francis Hotz
Also known as GeoHot. He dominates the list when it comes to hacking. At only 17 as the first person he hacked an iPhone to make it operable with all wireless careers as Apple planned it to be usable for only AT&T users. He also hacked into Sony PSP several times. Now he is working in his vehicle automation machine learning company – comma.ai. He has done all those notable hacks at a very young age, so to me he can get the top rank as a hacker without any judgement. He was technically very sound, the characteristic most programmers fail to achieve these days. He is still active but not with hackings anymore but with his company comma.ai.
Alias: The Homeless Hacker. Adrian Lamo decided to switch careers when he realized the potentials of his skills. He became a news when he hacked into Yahoo!, Microsoft, Google, and The New York Times. This, although culminated into his arrest, it later helped him gain the batch of an American Threat Analyst. A guy who would hack into top-notch accounts sitting in the spacious and comforting cafeterias, libraries, internet cafes, soon turned Wikileaks suspect Bradley Manning over to FBI.
Mathew Bevan and Richard Pryce
Targeting the over-sensitive nerves, what Mathew Bevan along with his alleged partner Richard Pryce did, could have triggered great many issues between USA and North Korea. The duo hacked the US military computers and used it as a means to infiltrate the foreign systems. The crucial contents of Korean Atomic Research Institute were dumped into USAF system. However, the contents were majorly relevant to South Korea and hence, less volatile. But this, nonetheless, could have led to a huge international issue.
The first juvenile to be imprisoned for a cyber-crime at the age of 16, Jonathan James or better known as c0mrade, hacked into Defense Threat Reduction Agency of US department. Further, he installed a sniffer that scrutinized the messages passed on between the DTRA employees. Not only did he keep a check on the messages being passed around, in the process, he collected the passwords and usernames and other such vital details of the employees, and further even stole essential software. All this cost NASA to shut down its system and to pay from its pocket $41,000. c0mrade, however, had a bitter ending as James committed suicide in 2008.
How far would you go to win your dream car or a dream house? How far will you go to win an online contest or a radio show contest? Perhaps, you shall keep trying your luck, unless you are Kevin Poulsen! Poulsen infiltrated a radio shows call-in contest just so he could win a Porsche. Dark Dante, as he was better known, went underground after FBI started pursuing him. He, later, was found guilty of seven counts of mail, wire and computer fraud, money laundering and the likes. What turned out to be rewarding in Dark Dante’s case is – his past crafted his future. Poulsen now serves as a Senior Editor at Wired.
Clad in an Armani suit, when a bespectacled face in his mid-40s smiles at you from the computer screen, you can hardly consider the man a cyber-criminal. Such is the case with Kevin David Mitnick. Once upon a time, the most wanted cyber-criminal of US, now is an affluent entrepreneur. Kevin, who is now a security consultant, was convicted of hacking Nokia, Motorola and Pentagon. He pleaded guilty to seven counts of fraud that included wire fraud, computer fraud and of illegally interception a wire communication. After five years of incarceration that included eight months of solitary confinement, Mitnick now has started afresh. However, his knack with the computers is still reminisced and was even depicted on celluloid in the films Takedown and Freedom Downtown.
How safe is internet banking? When we browse through the profile of this mastermind, we are certain that one ought to use the World Wide Web with immense care. For two long years, Albert Gonzalez, stole from credit cards of the netizens. This was recorded to be the biggest credit card theft in the history of mankind. He resold approximately 170 million credit cards and ATM numbers. He did so by installing a sniffer and sniffing out the computer data from internal corporate networks. When arrested, Gonzalez was sentenced to 20 years in Federal prison.
David L. Smith
You may not be familiar with his name, but you should be familiar with the virus he created called Melissa. Melissa was a virus that would infect the user’s computer and send itself through Microsoft Outlook to 50 contacts in the address book. That would happen each time when the virus gets to the new computer. It is estimated that Melissa infected more than 20% of all computers in the world by 2000.
In 1994, Vladimir Levin attempted one of the first online money frauds. He hacked into Citibank’s network and gained access to multiple accounts, transferring more than 10 million USD to other accounts opened by his accomplices. The fraud was later revealed, and Levin was sentenced to 3 years in prison.
Max “Iceman” Butler
Max Butler, known better for his alias Iceman, began his career as an online security consultant. He served as an informant for FBI after they found him trying to hack their network in 1998. After a brief time, he decided to quit and was eventually sentenced to 18 months in jail. However, his biggest hack happened 9 years later, in 2007, when he stole 2 million credit card numbers that he used for various purchases. He is currently serving 16-year prison sentence.
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.
Michael Demon Calce
Alias: Mafiaboy. 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.
Jeanson James Ancheta
Alias: Resilient. 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.
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.
Owen Thor Walker
In 2008, 18-year-old Owen Thor Walker pleaded guilty to six charges of cyber crime. He led an international hacker network that broke into 1.3 million computers, and infiltrated bank accounts to take more than $20 million. He was only 17 when the thefts began, but because he was homeschooled starting at 13, this left him time to learn programming and encryption. Overall he only made $32,000 from his hacking efforts, since he only wrote the code that the other members in the network used to steal the money. He pleaded guilty, wasn’t convicted, and only had to payback $11,000. He’s now advising companies on online security.
Robert Tappan Morris
A computer scientist who in 1988 invented the first computer worm on the internet known as the Morris Worm. Robert Tappan Morris was the first person to have ever been convicted due to his violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of the United States. He used to be a professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before he was sentenced to three years of probation by the US court.
Kristina Vladimirovna Svechinskaya is a young Russian hacker who got involved in several plots to defraud some of the largest banks in the United States and Great Britain. She used a trojan horse to attack and open thousands of bank accounts in the Bank of America, through which she was able to skim around $3 billion in total.
The 22-year-old Multan-born hacker who has, at this young age, already found and reported around 870 bugs. He has earned $150,000 in total bounties by reporting bugs to 350 global organizations. Some of these organizations include Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, LinkedIn, Dropbox and many more. Shahmeer’s website you can found here.
Syrian Electronic Army
The Syrian Electronic Army is a unique group. They sprung up in 2011, and backed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (it’s thought they could be supported by the Syrian government). While the group isn’t very sophisticated, they’ve attacked a large number of high-profile organizations and hundreds of websites. They primarily use spamming, malware, phishing, and denial of service attacks. Their first two years of existence saw just a handful of attacks, but in 2013 and 2014 the group launched dozens each year.
North Korea’s conventional military of aging Soviet jets and tanks can’t compete against the high-tech military of the US, but its capabilities in cyber warfare keep on getting better, according to a top US Army general. “This is an area of growth,” Gen. Vincent Brooks told Senate leaders. “While I would not characterize them as the best in the world, they are among the best in the world and the best organized.”
Little is known about the North Korea’s cyber warfare agency, though it does seem to employ considerable computer expertise.
Russia and China?
Both are notorious for high-profile attacks, advanced persistent threats, and theft of money or intellectual property. Which hackers cause the most damage? If by “damage” you mean frequency and severity of attacks, Chinese hackers take the No. 1 spot. Very likely tens of thousands of them, funded by the government, have broken into any company they like. I’m convinced they’ve stolen more secrets and intellectual property than any other country, with a single breach potentially incurring many millions of dollars in damage.
Russia’s hackers are more focused on direct financial crime and probably incur hundreds of millions of dollars in damage each year. Who knows — it could be billions of dollars. But if I compare the direct financial costs of Russia versus China, China probably wins that battle due to its theft of high-value intellectual property.
Who’s the best?
Sorry to disappoint you, but the real answer is that we don’t know who’s best. To be a “good” hacker you have to be invisible.
The best hackers are the ones we don’t see and don’t know about. they stay in the shadows and remain anonymous at all times. No real hacker is going to openly announce that they are a hacker.
But the real irony is that breaking into most organizations requires little in the way of advanced techniques anyway. Even the elite hacking units don’t use their best stuff unless they have to. Why hack smart and give away your best stuff when you can hack like any script kiddie and get into the same results without being discovered?