What exactly is hacking? And, of course, we are referring to digital hacking. The simplest definition is someone who alters software or hardware and makes it do something that wasn’t originally intended. Hackers find a weakness and then exploit it. If someone could hack your brain, maybe they could make you steal some money and give it to them. Maybe they could hack your secrets, that you keep locked away in your biological hard drive.
There are hackers that steal or cause needless damage, sometimes known as black hats. There are some that do it for the common good, say, in order to release nefarious government secrets, known as white hats; and then there are gray hats that fall somewhere in between. Today we are going to talk about the best of the best, in this episode of the Infographics Show, the Top 10 Internet Hackers.
Before we start, we will say that when we talk about the best hackers today, we need a name for that hacker. So, we will concentrate on single people, or at least leaders of a team. There are also plenty of great hacks that have happened, and we can’t tell you who was behind them. An example is the Russian Carbanak hacking group, who hacked banks in recent years for around one billion dollars. Police said in March 2018 that they may have arrested a mastermind, but it isn’t clear if they are right, or if indeed there was just one great brain behind it all. For that reason, we can’t put someone from this group on our list. To keep this show simple, we will try and give you a name or at least a group that is supposedly led by one master hacker.
10. Dark Dante
We’ll start with a guy who might not have been the best hacker to walk the Earth, but you have to admire his style. This man, who was really named Kevin Poulsen, did something pretty cool in the past, and he’s still pretty cool today. His biggest claim to fame was back in 1990 when he took over all the phone lines for a Los Angeles radio station and made sure that he was the lucky winner of a brand-new Porsche 944 S2. He was just 25 at the time.
The FBI soon came after him and he was arrested and sentenced to 5 years, at the time the longest sentence ever given in the U.S. for hacking. Even when he got out, there was a ban on him using a computer. He then took off his black hat and started working in security, and after that he became a contributing editor for the magazine Wired, and he had lots of success breaking big stories. He even created some software that tracked registered sex offenders on MySpace, which resulted in at least one arrest.
9. Albert Gonzalez
This is the man who is said have stolen more identities than anyone else in history. He is credited with what the New York Times called “The Great Cyberheist”. He stole 90 million credit and debit card numbers from American department stores and businesses and he got 20 years for it in 2010. Again, that was the biggest sentence ever to be handed down for such a crime at the time. He was 28-years old. He ended up costing banks and companies in the region of $200 million, but it’s thought he made only $2.8 million. It’s not bad really, but probably wasn’t worth 20 years of freedom.
This tenacious and cheeky British boy was just 15 when he hacked the FBI, but he was part of a bigger group called “Crackers with attitude.” If you know your rap music, then you’ll know where they got the name. Some hackers in the U.S were charged with being part of this group, but it seems the lead member in the UK wasn’t charged. Police got him, but his name was never revealed. All we know is that at age 15, he hacked tens of thousands of FBI and Homeland Security staff and other government big wigs in 2015, as well as hacking the personal email of the director of the CIA.
Imagine how that felt for the head of the world’s biggest spying outfit. It’s still a bit of a mystery as to who Cracka is, but Motherboard had a word with him, “The teenager said authorities arrested him on Tuesday, and are accusing him of the attacks on Brennan, White House officials, and the recent hack on the Department of Justice, which resulted in the publication of the names and contact information of almost 30,000 FBI and DHS employees.”
7. Max Ray “Iceman” Butler
From June 2005 to September 2007, it’s thought this young man from Idaho stole around 2 million credit card numbers and racked up $86 million in charges. He started hacking as a kid, first going to the bad side and supplying illegal software he had stolen, but then was hired by the same people he ripped off and became a consultant. He was supposed to be fixing an exploit for the U.S. government when he built a backdoor into the Department of Defense’s computer network.
Later he was caught again, and this time sentenced to 18 months in prison. When he got out he caused havoc, creating malware to steal credit card information and PINs and causing cyber attacks in the USA. He sold a lot of banking information on the dark web but was eventually caught and was sentenced to 13 years in prison, which at the time was the longest sentence for such a crime, and he was ordered to pay back his victims a total of $27.5 million. He is due to get out of prison in 2019.
The identity of Astra has never been revealed, but it’s thought that he was 58-years old when he was caught. It’s also said that this Greek guy was a math genius. For half a decade he hacked the computers of the French aviation company, Dassault Group. During this time, he stole weapons secrets relating to technology and engineering, giving others the exact plans regarding how to build certain weapons and machines.
This came in handy for some very bad people you’d expect to see in a James Bond movie, and it’s thought the damage he caused the company cost around $360 million. He had 250 buyers or thereabouts, from countries all over the world. He was caught in 2008 and sentenced to six years. No one knows where he is now or who he really is, but we do know that the word “Astra” means “weapon” in Sanskrit.
5. Yu Pingan
The ever-strange and never-aging security genius and part-time gun-slinger John MacAfee said this hack was one of the greatest ever performed. Known as the OPM (or Office of Personnel Management) hack, the person behind it managed to get his hands on information about every single person or consultant that had worked for the U.S. government for the last 50 years. This hack was discovered in 2015. Pingan even managed to have all the information on secret employees, so that meant CIA, undercover FBI, and all kinds of special operators. In 2017, a 36-year old Chinese national named Yu Pingan was arrested for this almighty hack and charged with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
Also known as “GoldSun”, this clever guy didn’t just have data about 21.5 million government employees and applicants, but he also knew all about their families and relatives. Not surprisingly, given that the U.S. government thinks Chinese smartphones are spying devices for the country, the government said Yu was working officially and the hack was called an act of espionage. We can find no reports about this story after his arrest in August 2017.
4. Jonathan James
So there have been some great young hackers, with one little guy named Kristoffer Von Hassel who hacked the Xbox at just 5 years old. But today we are only talking about people who caused serious damage or blew the minds of security experts. One such man was Jonathan James, who at the age of 15 and 16 managed to hack his local school system. But that was nothing; at the same age, he hacked the United States Department of Defense, getting a lot of information about what was happening in the department, who was employed there, and being first on the ball regarding threats to the USA. This young man from Florida was nothing short of a genius, and he decided to hack NASA. He downloaded information pertaining to how the International Space Station worked, data that had a value of $1.7 million.
NASA had to shut down its computer network for three weeks while figuring out who was behind the invasion. He was arrested and put under house arrest, and even had to go to NASA and the Department of Defense to personally apologize. He carried on though, and later hacked giant retail stores and all the information about their customers, including credit card details. Things got out of hand and James started thinking he was about to get the blame for things he hadn’t done. The young chap was paranoid, and instead of clearing his head, he took a gun and blew his head off in 2008. Part of his suicide note read, “I have lost control over this situation, and this is my only way to regain control.”
3. Gary McKinnon
This young Scottish lad went a step further, and he is said to have been behind the “biggest military computer hack of all time.” Calling himself Solo, it’s said that between February 2001 and March 2002, he hacked almost 100 NASA and US military computers. It’s said he paralyzed the military for a while, making very important computers that were used to control parts of the armed forces totally inoperable. This was a huge deal of course, with the U.S. being the most advanced military in the world…maybe…The Scot, then aged 35, left a note for this powerful military. It simply read, “Your security is crap.”
He said he hacked NASA mainly because he wanted to see if there was any UFO secret information. He was caught, but the USA couldn’t get him extradited. As he could have gotten 70 years over there, but UK officials and a passionate public who loved the brazen hacker demanded he not be sent over to the lion’s den. Pink Floyd even wrote a song about him. This clever man now roams free in the UK where he has an SEO-focused company. That basically means he can get your website at the top of Google searches, and you might well believe him given his past. We would.
2. Julian Assange
Ok, so we won’t say WikiLeaks, but we do have to talk about the man himself, who was a formidable hacker at a very young age. Long before Assange became an enemy of the United States, he was, it seems, an enemy of all kinds of institutions. The Guardian wrote a long feature on the life of this hacker as a young man, stating that he went through 37 different schools and came out with no qualifications. He helped write the book “Tales of Hacking, Madness & Obsession on the Electronic Frontier” in 1997, which proved he was a hacking genius.
Calling himself “Mendax,” in his teens until he reached 20, he hacked the Australian government, big corporations, and also educational networks. He moved on to banks, the Pentagon, NASA, Lockheed Martin, all before he became internationally famous. The Guardian writes that in 1991, he was without a doubt the best hacker in Australia, perhaps even the world. It’s said Assange believed he was a chosen one, once stating, “Men in their prime, if they have convictions, are tasked to act on them.” And that he certainly did, becoming the most recognizable hacker ever to have lived.
1. Kevin Mitnick
You might have guessed this is the guy we’d have at number one, as he’s kind of a mythological hacker. Looking at security websites such as Kaspersky, they all agree that this man deserves a lot of credit for his hacks. This is a guy that was hacking systems when he was only 16 yrs old, and he’s made a life’s work out of it since, when he wasn’t spending time behind bars at least. At one point he went on the run and was a fugitive for more than two years, and all the time he was hacking networks, stealing passwords, copying very valuable proprietary software, and generally causing trouble.
Mitnick was the inspiration behind the iconic movie, “War Games”. That’s because in 1982, the then young American man still in his teens hacked the North American Defense Command (or NORAD). Well, that is the story, but actually Mitnick says he never even did it. Nor did he wiretap the FBI, something he also became famous for. He denies this till today, but some people don’t believe him. He has said in interviews that while he was damn good, the U.S. government blew up his talents out of sheer fear.
During a 5-year stint in prison, they kept him in solitary confinement for 8 months, just because the government was so fearful of his magical talents. He wasn’t even allowed to use the prison payphone because, in his own words, the judge was so paranoid, he actually believed that Mitnick could whistle into a phone and perhaps start launching missiles. Poor Mitnick had become a victim of fear and ignorance, with a judge and a government that were way behind him. Nonetheless, some fears were justified.
Mitnick also hacked Digital Equipment Corporation’s network, copying and selling their software. He got past what were thought to be the very secure networks of Sun Microsystems, and companies such as Motorola, Netcom, and Nokia and also hacked Pacific Bell’s network, once saying he only did it just to prove it could be done. He now runs his own security firm. Still known as the world’s best hacker, he always said he did it for fun rather than for money, and we commend him for that. His job now is being paid tons of money by big companies to ensure they won’t get hacked.
We’ll end today’s episode with a quote from Mitnick himself: “Should we fear hackers? Intention is at the heart of this discussion.”
So, do you fear hackers, considering how much of our lives are online? If you could hack anything, what would you hack, and would your intentions be good or bad? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called Mariana’s Web – The Scariest Part of the Internet! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!