Who are the best hackers ever? The responses to this question often give way to a polarizing debate. After all, these lists often include those caught in the act, and one side argues that the best hackers are those that haven’t been. Of course, it’s impossible to compile such a list, and the other side argues that if you’re good enough and at it long enough, capture is, as Agent Smith suggests to Neo, inevitable. We tend to take the side of the former argument, so in presenting our list of the Top 10 hackers, we use the qualifier, those “who got caught”.
10. John T. Draper
Born in 1944 and U.S. Air Force-trained, Draper became a legendary phone phreak and an iconic figure in the world of computer programming. It all started while working as an engineer for National Semiconductor when he witnessed two blind kids using a modified toy whistle from a cereal box to make free phone calls through the payphone system. Using the mantle Captain Crunch, Draper popularized the use of the whistle and a host of other phreaking techniques. Although his crimes are not spectacular, his lasting effect on the computing world is.
9. Kevin Mitnick
Depending on who you ask, Mitnick is one of the greatest hackers to ever live or he was a poser simply in the right places at the right times. While at large and committing a coast-to-coast hacking spree, Mitnick received a great deal of media attention, and the FBI even labeled him “the most wanted computer criminal in United States history.” However, when convicted, the crimes did not seem overly notable, and Mitnick served less than six years in prison. Many consider this proof of his brilliance.
8. Adrian Lamo
Today, Lamo is a high-profile public speaker and an award-winning journalist. At the turn of the century, Lamo was a hacker exploiting the networks of companies like Microsoft and the New York Times. However, what made is accomplishments most impressive and earned him the moniker the “homeless hacker”, is that he used Internet cafes, libraries, and Kinko’s, to hack during the day, and squatted in abandoned buildings at night.
7. Sven Jaschan
The German Jaschan was just a 17-year old teen when he unleashed Sasser and Netsky on the Internet. These two viruses exposed a vulnerability in Windows, and the effect was more dramatic than we expected possible. It disabled the networks of businesses throughout the world, which even included shutting down airlines and entire satellite systems. Charged as a minor by the German government, Sven got off light, and we will feel his effect on Windows security for years to come.
6. Dmitri Galushkevich
In 2007, Estonia and Russia locked up in a conflict over the removal of Soviet-era statues. Therefore, when Estonia suffered the worst hacker attack in their history at that same time, it was easy to blame the Russians. The attack overloaded servers throughout the country shutting down all forms of commerce. In the end, the culprit was Galushkevich, a 20-year old ethnic Russian living in Estonia. Some still suggest that Galushkevich was a Russian pawn, but there was never any evidence to support that claim.
5. Robert Tappan Morris
The son of former NSA scientist Robert Morris became the very definition of Black Hat hacker when he unleashed the first computer worm on the Internet. To this day, Morris asserts that he built the Morris worm simply to evaluate the size of the Internet. However, it was clear that he had other plans for this excessively replicating worm that brought the Internet to its knees.
4. Kevin Poulsen
Known as Dark Dante and labeled the “the Hannibal Lector of computer crime” by law enforcement, Poulsen pulled off some of the most visible hacks in history. This included winning a Porsche from KIIS-FM radio station by taking over their phone lines, and even shutting down the phone lines of the America’s Most Wanted television program when he was the feature.
3. Raphael Gray
Also known as Curador, Gray, a Welsh teenager, insists he was trying to help by drawing attention to lax security systems. However, actions speak louder than words, and what he did was steal 26,000 credit card names and numbers of American, British, and Canadian customers in 2000. Then, rather than use them, he exposed all of that information online. Whatever his motives, it remains one of the most impressive network compromises to date.
2. Jonathan James
Perhaps James’/c0mrade’s greatest claim to fame is that at 16, he became the first juvenile hacker sent to prison. However, his offenses were legitimate and serious. His highest-profile crime occurred when he compromised NASA computers and stole software worth $1.7 million. Another major offense came when he installed backdoor access into the servers of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which is responsible for monitoring biological, chemical, conventional, nuclear, and special weapon threats to the U.S.
1. Gary McKinnon
Known widely as Solo, the Scottish conspiracy theorist McKinnon entered the networks of the U.S. Army, Air Force, Department of Defense, NASA, and Navy. What did he come for? He sought evidence of alien spacecraft, which he could use to solve the global energy crisis. McKinnon’s case is still ongoing, and his lawyers claim that he deserves special consideration because he is afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome. However, the U.S. believes these excuses to be a ruse.