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The Most Infamous Hackers of All Time

The most infamous hackers of all time brought down major companies, stole millions of credit card numbers, created viruses and even did some good along the way. These hackers are the pioneers in the computer hacking world and are some of the best at the sport. These are the hackers that made stole millions of dollars from individuals and companies around the world, shut down military systems, toppled companies networks, and even provided the first iPhone jailbreak. They may not have intended to do harm but with their actions they've become part of an elite group of the most infamous hackers of all time. Plus, they had cool hacker names. Never underestimate a good hacker name.

As some of the most well-known hackers of all time, these hackers were also some of the first. Take Robert Tappan Morris for instance. He created the first computer worm, the Morris worm, and spread it across the Internet. Just as Morris was the first charged under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, others were the first prosecuted for their crimes, such as botnet specialist Jeanson James Ancheta who hijacked over a half million computers before he was captured by the FBI.

While some, like Albert Gonzalez who stole over $4.3 million by hacking credit card numbers, wanted to profit from their actions, others actually wanted to do some good. Adrian Lamo spent his time locating security flaws in corporate networks, of which he'd notify the company afterward. Too bad he didn't tell the company ahead of time, which made his actions criminal.

Others have changed how we use our everyday devices, such as George Hotz, who is held in high regard in the hacking world for creating the first iPhone jailbreak.

Sure, many of these hackers spent time in prison for their actions, but nearly as many also came out cleaner and now work to help companies protect against these types of security flaws rather than helping exploit them. That there is a sign of greatness on its own.

Who are examples of infamous hackers? This list of hackers will answer that question and more. Take a look at the most best hackers of all time and see for yourself.
  • Photo: flickr / CC0

    Also 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.

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  • Photo: flickr / CC0

    Jeanson 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.
  • Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    Though 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.

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  • Considered 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.