In the modern information sharing age, it is easier than ever to hack into someone’s computer or personal account and steal their identity. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the United States right now and is a global epidemic. Some figures put the cost of identity theft at over $40 billion dollars! Because of that fact, identity theft protection is even more important than ever. Though there are limits on your personal liability when it comes to your credit cards, a hacker can drain your checking account in seconds if they’ve got your information. Here are the top 10 most famous hackers of all time:
1. Kevin Mitnick
It is almost a badge of pride to be wanted by the FBI as a hacker, and Kevin Mitnick wore that badge proudly. Jailed twice for his hacking attempts, Mitnick caused over $15 million worth of damage with an early internet worm that crashed about 10% of operating sites at the time. Though Mitnick doesn’t consider himself a hacker – a “persuader” is how he refers to himself, he was able to convince plenty of people to share with him their relevant information, such as their Social Security number, in a number of different ways. He’s appeared on TV, had several books written about his life, and there’s even a movie called Takedown about him.
2. Kevin Poulsen
The first hacker to actually be charged with espionage, Poulsen learned how to hack into things as a kid. When he was young and had braces, he learned how to whistle into payphones so that he could make free calls. He hacked the telephone lines of a radio station so that he could win a Porsche. What got him the espionage charges was his alleged ability to hack into the Air Force computer network to steal classified documents. Though a journalist now, Poulsen was also wanted by the FBI at one point and has also had a biography written about his hacking exploits.
3. Robert Tappan Morris
Most people know Robert Tappan Morris as the guy who created the very first internet worm. Though he claimed he created it in order to explore the actual size of the internet itself in 1988, he ended up crippling just about every computer hooked up to the internet, as well as the internet itself. At the time Morris received a fine and three years of probation time as the first person convicted under the newly created Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but since then he’s made millions designing software and earned his Ph.D. from Harvard in Applied Sciences and is a professor at M.I.T.
4. Adrian Lamo
Most people know Adrian Lamo because he’s identified as the “journalist” who turned in Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked classified information to the website WikiLeaks. Before this notoriety, however, Lamo was actually known as the “Homeless Hacker.” He grabbed this moniker because he used to set up shop in abandoned buildings or at public locations. He would hack into major corporations, but then tell them he had successfully hacked them, then sometimes even help to fix the holes he had discovered. From a Kinko’s shop, Lamo was able to hack into The New York Times and gather personal information on thousands of people.
5. Gary McKinnon
Though many hackers delve into the networks of governments and businesses in order to gather personal information that they can use to their advantage and profit, McKinnon allegedly had something else on his mind when he supposedly hacked most of U.S. government’s computer networks in 2001 and 2002: UFOs. McKinnon, who is also known as “Solo,” is based out of London has never been extradited to the United States to face charges. Though he didn’t find what he was looking for, which was evidence of flying saucers with great gas mileage, the United States is accusing him of causing over $36 million in damages. He was convicted for his activities in the United Kingdom, however.
6. Richard Pryce
Along with Matthew Bevan, Richard Pryce is known as the hacker that almost started a war. He and Bevan hacked into U.S. Government computers in 1996 in order to collect passwords and data, then used a U.S. computer to attempt to hack into a Korean one. Officials in the United States initially thought that the attempt had been directed at a North Korean computer network at the exact time the U.S. was attempting to negotiate with the Communist country. If that had been the case, it could have been considered an act of war. Fortunately for everyone involved, the network was South Korean.
7. Jonathan James
Jonathan James is one of the sadder stories when it comes to the most famous hackers of all time. James was just a kid when he was first arrested for hacking into computer networks and ended up having to spend 6 months in juvenile detention. His efforts at hacking into NASA and other U.S. Government sites cost the government tens of thousands of dollars and he had managed to download sensitive information.
Just eight years later, James committed suicide after a battle with drugs and being considered part of the largest identity theft ring ever discovered at the time in 2008. He was suspected of having been able to hack into the networks of several large businesses to obtain personal information on customers, including credit card information, and then being able to use that information to make millions of dollars. His last words were that he was innocent, but since he had a past, he figured everyone would blame him.
8. Albert Gonzalez
Gonzalez was one of the hackers that was working with Jonathan James and his efforts were fundamental in being able to hack into literally dozens of computer networks. Accused of stealing over 36 million different credit card numbers, the cost of repairing the damage that Gonzalez caused was well into nine figures.
What makes Gonzalez even more unique is the fact that he was working as an informant for the Secret Service at the time of his arrest. What was he doing? Working as an informant regarding the activities of identity theives and hackers. For his efforts at playing both sides of the field, Gonzalez was convicted of his crimes and sentenced to 20 years behind bars.
9. Vladimir Levin
Would you do three years of jail time if that meant you could potentially keep $10 million that you were able to successfully steal through hacking? If so, then your life is much like that of Vladimir Levin, who pioneered the cracking version of hacking. Using his advanced math skills, he was able to log into the Citibank of New York from St. Petersburg, Russia, and transfer $10 million into several different accounts he had set up throughout the world.
What is cracking? Cracking, or a “cracker,” is someone with the desire to do work as a hacker so that you get financial gain from it. Levin was arrested in 1995 in London for his theft efforts and ended up just serving three years in prison. Not every hacker is a cracker, but every cracker is a hacker.
10. Richard Stallman
Though he isn’t really known as a computer hacker, he was a well-known hacker back in the early 1980′s and has been instrumental in developing artificial intelligence. Today he is known for his development of CopyLeft and GNU, which Linux uses extensively, but back in the day he was known more for his efforts at developing free software. Much of his work actually originated because of his objections to M.I.T. privitizing software.
Known more by his initials, RMS, than his actual name, Stallman is very concerned about the intrusions into privacy that are occurring today. Not only can your cell phones be tracked, but so can your internet activities – as evidenced by recent disclosures leaked from the U.S. Government by an NSA contractor. He continues to work and lecture regularly about the importance of using free software and staying off the grid as much as possible.
Though some hackers have the general public’s best interests at heart, many other hackers do not. From the theft of personal information and bank accounts to disrupting global commerce, the best hackers in the world are removing millions of dollars per day from the economy. By knowing about how the best hackers work, you can work toward providing your identity with an adequate level of protection. Don’t let yourself be at risk! Empower yourself with knowledge about identity theft and hacking so that you can keep your identity your own.