Within the hacker culture there are various levels: ‘white-hat hackers’ use hacking to improve computer security, ‘gray-hat hackers’ and the ones who are just having fun, and then there’s ‘black-hat hackers’. These are the notorious hackers, the ones that we hear about on the news, those who look to gain access to confidential government documents or who leak dangerous or personal information.
Here’s a list of the five most famous black-hat hackers in history – and what happened to them.
1. Julian Assange
Perhaps the most famous known hacker Julian Assange, whom most people know for creating WikiLeaks, began hacking at age 16, using the name ‘Mendax’. Assange then went on to hack various networks including NASA, Stanford University and the Pentagon. In 2006, he created WikiLeaks, a platform whereby news leaks and classified documents can be published from anonymous sources. In 2010, the United States government launched an investigation against Julian Assange under the Espionage Act of 1917. He is currently in a self-imposed “house-arrest” at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, in the fear that he might be extradited to the US.
2. Kevin Mitnick
Once known as the ‘most wanted computer criminal in US history’, Mitnick served a year in person because he hacked into the Digital Equipment Corporation’s network. After being released from prison he went on a hacking spree that included stealing corporate secrets and hacking into the US national defense warning system. Mitnick was arrested soon after this and spent another five years in prison. After being released he became a consultant and public speaker and now runs a computer security company, Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC.
3. Albert Gonzalez
Notorious as the former leader of the hacker group ShadowCrew, Gonzalez and his crew stole and sold credit card numbers, created fraudulent passports, health insurance cards and birth certificates, and were involved in many identity theft crimes. Over a period of two years from 2005-2007, 24-year-old Gonzalez collected over 170 million credit card and ATM card numbers and is said to have thrown himself a $75 000 birthday party. He was arrested in 2010 and sentenced to prison for 20 years, and he is scheduled to be released in 2025.
4. Kevin Poulsen
Also known as the ‘Dark Dante’, Poulsen became a mini celeb when he hacked a radio station’s phone lines and fixed himself as the winning caller and won a brand-new Porsche. He became a wanted man when he hacked into federal systems and stole wiretap information. Poulsen was eventually caught in a supermarket and sentenced to 51 months in prison and fined $56 000. After being released from prison in 1995, Poulsen became a journalist and is now the senior editor of Wired; he also put his hacking skills to good use by working alongside law enforcement in 2006 to find sex offenders on MySpace.
5. Robert Tappan Morris
Known as the creator of the first known computer worm, Morris inherited his knowledge of computers from his father, who was a computer scientist at Bell Labs and the NSA. In 1988, when he was a student at Cornell University, he created the Morris Worm to gauge the size of the internet, but because computers could be infected more than once, each infection caused computers to slow down even more and it rendered more than 6 000 computers unusable. Morris was arrested in 1989 as he was seen to have violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Morris was sentenced to three years’ probation, 400 hours of community service and a fine of $10 050. He is now a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the founder of Y Combinator.