The reality, however, is that hackers are a very diverse bunch, a group simultaneously blamed with causing billions of dollars in damages as well as credited with the development of the World Wide Web and the founding of major tech companies. In this article, we test the theory that truth is better than fiction by introducing you to ten of the most famous hackers, both nefarious and heroic, to let you decide for yourself.
Black Hat Crackers
The Internet abounds with hackers, known as crackers or "black hats," who work to exploit computer systems. They are the ones you've seen on the news being hauled away for cybercrimes. Some of them do it for fun and curiosity, while others are looking for personal gain. In this section we profile five of the most famous and interesting "black hat" hackers.
- Jonathan James: James gained notoriety when he became the first juvenile to be sent to prison for hacking. He was sentenced at 16 years old. In an anonymous PBS interview, he professes, "I was just looking around, playing around. What was fun for me was a challenge to see what I could pull off."
James's major intrusions targeted high-profile organizations. He installed a backdoor into a Defense Threat Reduction Agency server. The DTRA is an agency of the Department of Defense charged with reducing the threat to the U.S. and its allies from nuclear, biological, chemical, conventional and special weapons. The backdoor he created enabled him to view sensitive emails and capture employee usernames and passwords.
James also cracked into NASA computers, stealing software worth approximately $1.7 million. According to the Department of Justice, "The software supported the International Space Station's physical environment, including control of the temperature and humidity within the living space." NASA was forced to shut down its computer systems, ultimately racking up a $41,000 cost. James explained that he downloaded the code to supplement his studies on C programming, but contended, "The code itself was crappy . . . certainly not worth $1.7 million like they claimed."
Given the extent of his intrusions, if James, also known as "c0mrade," had been an adult he likely would have served at least 10 years. Instead, he was banned from recreational computer use and was slated to serve a six-month sentence under house arrest with probation. However, he served six months in prison for violation of parole. Today, James asserts that he's learned his lesson and might start a computer security company.
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