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- 1Also known across the interwebs as c0mrade, Jonathan James was the first juvenile convicted and jailed for hacking in the United States. At the age of 15, James hacked into several companies back in 1999 including Bell South, the Miami-Dade school system and a little organization called the United States Department of Defense. He didn't really mess much up, but did read sensitive information, including the source code that made the International Space Station work.
After the intrusion was detected, NASA shut down their computers for three weeks to investigate for a loss of $41,000. James was arrested on January 26, 2000, later plea-bargained and was sentenced to house arrest and probation. He violated that probation by failing a drug test and later served six months in an Alabama prison.
In 2007, several companies including Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Office Max and others were victims of a massive computer system hack. While James denied any involvement, he was investigated in connection with the crimes. On May 18, 2008, James was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. According to his suicide note, he was bothered by a loss of faith in the justice system and convinced he would be prosecuted for the newer crimes in which he was not involved.
- 2Jeanson James Ancheta earned the distinction as the first person charged with creating a botnet, or a group of hijacked computers that work together for hacking activities. In 2004, the high school dropout discovered a specialized computer worm that could be used to take over computers remotely to use them for evil.
He took that worm and spread it to roughly 500,000 computers during his hacking career, including United States military computers. Ancheta used these bots to hack into websites with the intention of bringing them down. Often times he was paid to hack specific sites having found clients willing to finance his hacking using Internet chat sites.
In 2005, Ancheta was captured after a sting operation set up by the FBI. He was sentenced to four felonies including for fraud and related activity in connection with computers. He was forced to give up a BMW, $58,000 he earned hacking, pay $16,000 and serve 60 months in prison.
- 3Though now the News Editor at Wired.com, back in the early 1990s Kevin Poulsen was known as the black hat hacker Dark Dante, also called "the Hannibal Lecter of computer crime." Poulsen specialized in telephone hacking and even got himself a fancy car in the process. In one bold move, he hacked into the phone system of the Los Angeles, California, radio station KIIS-FM to make sure he was the correct caller to win a Porsche.
Poulsen also was able to reactivate old phone numbers used by an escort service and hacked into federal computers for wiretap information. This put him on the FBI's wanted list and he was featured on the television series "Unsolved Mysteries." Mysteriously, after his appearance, the TV show's phones crashed.
In 1991, Poulsen was captured by the FBI. He pleaded guilty to fraud, money laundering and obstruction of justice and sentenced to serve 51 months in prison plus pay $56,000 in restitution. After his release from prison, Poulsen reinvented himself as a technology journalist. He even went on to help law enforcement, creating a list of over 700 sex offenders on the social networking site MySpace.
- 4Considered the best hacker around by many, George Hotz didn't use his computer hacking skills to steal credit card numbers or topple company networks. Instead, Hotz is considered the pioneer of jailbreaking, or hacking into, the Apple iPhone as he was the first to do so.
Initially, Hotz used a hardware-based hack to jailbreak the popular smartphones, chronicling the success on his personal blog. He later created software that would jailbreak iPhones and Apple iPod Touch models using software.
In the time since, Hotz has continued to release updated jailbreak software for newer versions of the Apple products as well as hacks to jailbreak popular video game consoles such as the PlayStation 3. Sony was not too impressed with this feat however and sued Hotz. The two parties settled out of court.
Albert GonzalezOf all of the hackers out there, perhaps Albert Gonzalez is the king of them all having pulled off a massive hack that lasted over two years and collected over 170 million credit card and ATM card numbers. That's equal to more than the entire population of Russia.
Gonzalez was also the mastermind behind the ShadowCrew group of hackers that stole 1.5 million credit card numbers then sold them online along with fraudulent passports, health insurance cards and birth certificates. As a result, over $4.3 million was stolen from the identity theft victims.
Though that was impressive, it was Gonzalez's hacking into other companies that brought him his fame and fortune. He hacked TJX Companies, stealing over 45 million credit card numbers, and Heartland Payment Systems, taking another 130 million credit card numbers. Three federal indictments later, in March 2010, Gonzalez was sentenced to serve two concurrent 20-year sentences in federal prison.
- 6Though he was responsible for hacking major companies like the New York Times and Microsoft, Adrian Lamo was not your average computer hacker. He didn't live the life of luxury like many others and by all accounts his nickname of the "homeless hacker" was pretty accurate.
Lamo would use public Internet connections, such as those available at coffee shops and libraries, to exploit security hacks in the systems of major corporations like Yahoo!, Bank of America, Citigroup. While Lamo would tell the companies of their security flaws, as he was not paid to find these cracks, technically he was hacking.
That however was not what got Lamo in trouble with the law. His sentence of paying $65,000 in restitution plus six months house arrest and two years of probation came after he hacked the New York Times and added himself to their list of experts. He may have also stole a few social security numbers in the process. Today, Lamo serves as a journalist and public speaker.
- 7His exploits sound like something straight out of a movie and in fact, the story of computer hacker Kevin Mitnick has inspired two films as he became what the Department of Justice called the "most wanted computer criminal in United States history."
After getting his start by hacking his way into free bus passes, Mitnick went on what CNN called a two-and-a-half year hacking spree that breached numerous computers, broke into the national defense warning system, stole corporate secrets and scrambled phone lines.
In an odd move, Mitnick also hacked the personal computer of fellow hacker Tsutomu Shimomura, which is also how he got caught. Mitnick served five years in prison for his crimes and now provides consulting, writing and speaking services on computer security.
- 8Son of the late Robert Morris, who coauthored UNIX and served as a cheif scientist at the National Computer Security Center, Robert Tappan Morris created the first computer worm and was the first person convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
While studying at Cornell University, Morris created the Morris Worm with the intent to measure the size of the Internet. This however didn't really work as planned and actually ended up disrupting the many computers it infected with losses estimated as much as $53,000 per company.
Using the fancy new Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Morris was prosecuted for gaining access and causing damage to federal computers. He served three years of probation, performed community service and paid restitution. Now, Morris serves as a tenured professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.