When it comes to cutting edge mischief, there’s nothing quite like a computer hacker to capture our imagination. As we become more connected to our devices than ever before, we become ever more fascinated in those who’ve danced their way around modern cyber security. Whether it’s elaborate Internet heists, government hackers or hacktivist groups there’s something innately compelling about the story of these online Houdini’s. Below we take a look at the most prolific computer hackers in modern history.
1. Gary McKinnon
As one of the most controversial cases on this list, Gary McKinon hacked into 97 US military systems before leaving a message that said “Your security is crap”. In his journey to prove the existence of UFOs he found himself on the wrong side of US law, but that didn’t stop him from attempting to download images of “alien spacecraft”. Since the high profile hacks, the US has been unsuccessful at extraditing McKinnon from the UK. The case was made ever more complex and controversial due to the fact that Gary McKinnon has Autism.
2. Kevin Mitnick
Kevin Mitnick has been described by the US Department of Justice as “the most wanted computer criminal in United States history “. Mitnick is alleged to have hacked into computer systems of technology companies all the way from Nokia, to Motorola. Despite his attempts to evade authorities Mitnick was arrested and imprisoned in 1995 before being released on parole in 2000. Today he appears to have left his hacking activities behind him and instead opts to run a computer security consultancy instead.
3. Sven Jaschan
Sven Jaschan is one of the more alarming characters on this list, as he is reputed to have created the Netsky and Sasser worms in 2004 as a teenager. The two viruses have had a devastating impact online and previously accounted for more that 70 percent of all malware seen spreading over the internet at the time. Jaschan was caught and received a suspended sentence and three years’ probation on account of his crimes.
4. Robert Morris
As one of the most notorious names on the list, Robert Morris is notorious for discovering the buffer overflow and creating the first ever Internet worm (The Morris Worm). The Internet worm program exploited a gap in Unix’s sendmail program and went on to infect thousands of computers around the world. The self-replicating program was incredibly infectious to the extent that even Morris couldn’t control it. In an attempt to regain control of the situation he sent a message out to instruct other programmers how to eliminate the virus.
5. Vladimir Levin
Vladimir Levi has become infamous as the perpetrator of one of the biggest Internet heists in modern history. In 1995, he broke into Citibank computers and stole $10 million before wiring it to different accounts around the world. One part of the heist was to tap into telecommunication systems to listen to customers private account information. The authorities recovered the majority of the money and Levin was sentenced to three years in prison in addition to being ordered to pay back $240,000 to Citibank.
6. The Syrian Electronic Army
As one of the most militaristic hacking entities on this list, The Syrian Electronic Army has been incredibly active in causing chaos for western organizations. In support of Syria, the SEA has launched distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS) on high traffic sites like Facebook and Twitter. Any organization reputed to be anti-Syria has been targeted, including the Huffington Post and the New York Times. The SEA has even hacked the Marine Corps website to encourage marines to refuse their orders.
7. Max Ray “Iceman” Butler
May Ray Butler, computer security consultant gone rogue is one of the most notorious hackers on this list. Butler was arrested in 2007 for stealing 2 million credit card numbers and accumulating over $86 million through fraudulent activity. Even more alarming is the fact that Butler was organizing the “Carders Market”, a forum where individuals illegally bought and sold the financial data of unsuspecting consumers. After Butler was caught he was hit with a 13-year prison sentence (The longest sentence for hacking up to that point).
MafiaBoy was the mind behind one of the largest DDOS attacks in history, an attack which brought down Amazon, eBay and Yahoo. MafiaBoy used computer scripts to overwhelm servers with useless data and send them offline. As part of his defense, Yan’s lawyer suggested that Romanowski had the potential to do ‘unimaginable damage’ if he used all of his skills. The maximum sentence would have been two years, but Mafiaboy only received 8 months, and one year of probation after his release.
A hacker by the alias of Astra, rose to notoriety after gaining access to Dassault Group Computers, an aviation company, stealing a mass of data on weapons technology. During the height of his activity, Astra indiscriminately sold information about jet fighters and military aircrafts to countries during the period spanning the hacks. Astra’s breach of Dassault Group cost them more than $360 million. Though his identity has never been released to the public, he was arrested in January 2008 before being sentenced to six years in prison.
10. Anonymous Group
Anonymous is one of the most notorious hacktivist groups on the Internet. They rose to prominence after a series of high profile attacks were publicized on social media. The group has a distinct image with anonymous spokesman talking whilst wearing Guy Fawkes masks. As a hacktivist group, the majority of their attacks are conducted for ‘moral’ reasons (Though they are a vigilante group). One of the largest attacks occurred in 2012 when Anonymous shut down the Recording Industry and Motion Picture Association of America’s websites in response to the FBI’s shut down on MegaUpload.