Nowadays computers are commonly used to store information, documents, pictures etc. Unfortunately, computer viruses are not the only danger they are exposed to – hackers proved on numerous occasions to be as much of a threat, and even more so for companies and corporations.

In the age of computers and the Internet, the emergence of hackers was only a matter of time. There is already an article about the (probably) very first of them, so we do recommend to get acquainted with his story – First hacker ever. We have also posted an article on safety measures and origins of data encryption, which you might want to see prior to learning about the top 10 probably most famous hackers – What is data encryption and where does it originate?

10. Kevin Mitnick

He was imprisoned twice, first in 1988, then from 1995 to 2000. Forbidden to use the Internet for 3 years, ha managed to circumvent the ban – his girlfriend managed his email messages, while he was looking at the screen over her shoulder.

Mitnick tended to call himself a ‘social engineer‘ instead of ‘hacker‘. At the age of 12 he was skilful enough to bypass the perforated card system utilised in Los Angeles public transportation buses. Kevin was arrested for breaking into different large computer networks in the USA. He remains one of the most famous hackers of the 20th century, and formerly a most wanted one in his country.

9. Kevin Poulsen

As as child, he learned how to bypass a payphone in order to make free telephone calls. He managed to take control of a telephone line system of a radio station in order to ensure his success in a contest and win a Porsche 944 S2. He used to hack into the computers of famous actresses, the Pentagon, or the FBI, which were pursuing him at the time. He was the first hacker to be charged with espionage, supposedly having stolen classified information from the US Air Force. He was sentenced for 51 months of imprisonment.

8. Adrian Lamo

He first became known for hacking into several computer networks, such as Yahoo!, Microsoft, or Google. Once he managed to hack into a company‘s network, he would send them an information about the holes in their security. Sometimes he would even offer to help solving those issues, free of charge. The first time he got himself into trouble was after hacking into the network of The New York Times, where he found huge amounts of classified data, including personal information of the newspaper associates. In order to avoid imprisonment, he subjected himself to 6 months of house arrest.

7. Gary McKinnon

He was sentenced for hacking into 97 computers of the US military and the NASA. McKinnon was charged with installation of hacking software, deletion of vital files and information theft. 

His hacking into the military systems is considered one of the largest in the history of security breaches. He admitted to leaving a threatening note, signed ‘Solo‘, on one of the military computers.

6. Robert Tappan Morris

The creator of the first ‘computer worm‘ – made to unveil the weakness of the security of a number of systems. It resulted in infection of 6 thousand computers, large number of which sustained severe damage. 

For his exploits, Morris was sentenced to 3 years of probation, 400 hours of community service, $10 000 fine and $150 000 of court fees.

5. John Draper

In the mid-1960s he served as an air force radar technician. Later on he started to tinker with the telephone system, learning about its structure, the internal codes (supposedly, he learned a code allowing to contact president Nixon), and how to bypass the system to make free telephone calls. Draper also had and experience with Apple! He met Steve Wozniak, one of its co-founders, and even wrote one of the first word processors, but his eccentric behaviour, poor mind for business and streaks of bad luck effectively prevented him from earning considerable money.

4. Julian Paul Assange

An Australian journalist and publisher, founder of WikiLeaks – a website publishing confidential information from personal internet accounts and press leaks. 

As a teenage hacker, Assange used to publish United States military documents. At the age of 16 he joined and international hacker group, where he operated under the nickname ‘Mendax‘.

3. Matthew Bevan and Richard Pryce

A number of hackers were known for stealing classified information or money, breaking into and destroying computer systems. Few of them, however, admitted to nearly starting a war! Both hackers were arrested for an attempted hack of the US military systems. During their couple of months long cooperation, Bevan and Pryce installed a password interception system at an US air force base, then attempted to hack into other systems. The US government became especially concerned once it became clear that the duo was able to penetrate the North Korean system, during especially fraught negotiations concerning nuclear weapons programme. Since the attack was performed using a ‘hijacked‘ US government computer, it could have been considered as an act of aggression.

2. Jonathan James

At the age of 16, James was the first underage hacker to be sentenced to 6 months imprisonment. Using the nickname ‘cOmrade‘, he was charged with hacking into NASA i Department of Defense computers. His hacks were harmless, but he did commit information theft, and the security violations required long time to resolve, which costed tens of thousands of dollars. In 2008, his house was searched in relation to the largest case of personal information theft in the history of the USA.

James, along with others, was suspected of hacking into numerous company networks, as well as personal and credit card data. He committed suicide two weeks later. He left a note, in which he expressed conviction that even though he was innocent, that the government will consider him guilty due to his past notoriety.

1. Albert ‘segvec‘ Gonzalez

A computer criminal known mainly for stealing credit card numbers in the United States. He managed to transfer $170 000 000 to his personal account. Gonzalez was a long time United States Secret Service informant, providing information on other credit card thieves. Ultimately, he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, a highest sentence ever passed on a hacker in the USA.

Is there something worse than viruses that can compromise computer safety? It turns out that hackers can pose a much greater threat to our systems. But even though protection against them might be difficult – even the US government proved not to be impervious ‘ we have reasons to feel safe.

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