Hacking has been around a long time and evolved into a two-sided battle between digital cowboys. Who are the most infamous hackers and hacker groups in Internet history?
The History of Internet Hacking: The Digital Cowboys
Today’s cowboys don’t ride horse and they don’t ride steel. These guys ride the digital network we call the Internet. If you are thinking it’s something along the lines of Tron or maybe the movie Hackers, both are right. Hackers, today’s digital cowboys, ride the web from the safety of their office chairs, their range is the global network of Internet servers we call the World Wide Web. The movies may make it seem glamorous, pull out all the fast paced action so that what you have left is a bunch of people sitting around some computers in a dark room and the image would be more accurate. Despite this there are a number of famous and infamous hackers who’ve not only made a place for themselves in history, but also have dramatically altered the way we use the Internet.
What is a hacker? Historically speaking a hacker was a bad guy. At the launch of the net there were users and hackers. The users were going about their business and the hackers were trying to hack them. Hacking, this is the practice of manipulating network connections and connected devices including but not limited to unauthorized access and acquisition of information. As time moved on, the good guys began to fight back with their own hackers, anti-hackers if you will, and this move caused a split in how we think of them.
Today the term hacker generally refers to anyone with the technical ability, and using it, to penetrate, evade, intercept, acquire or otherwise interfere with another network, device, software or hacker. The group has been split into Black Hats and White Hats. The Black Hats are the bad guys, the enemies of the public good. The White Hats are the good guys, the sheriffs of the Internet. What is interesting to find is that many of today’s White Hats got their starts as Black Hats and this has been true since the start of the Internet.
Why you may ask? An interesting question. In some cases it was because the hacker had been caught and co-opted into performing White Hat services. In other cases it was because the hackers realized they could more easily reach their ultimate goal, wealth, by safer methods. A Black Hat is always at risk of being caught, a White Hat uses their ability for the public good and is above reproach. Think about it like this. The first hackers were attracted to their field, at least in part, for personal gain and/or because they could. The challenge of defeating a system in order to snatch information or money was irresistible.
As the threat of hacking grew, business, law enforcement agencies and governments began to see the need for their own hackers opening a new avenue for the technically savvy. From this point forward where one hacker was engrossed with defeating a system, another was fully focused checking, enhancing and actively defending system security from Wi-Fi hackers.
Believe it or not the most famous hacker in history isn’t even a real person. David Lightman was a high school senior engrossed with computers and the Internet. His interest led him to hack into a government system where he met the WOPR. Yes, I am talking about Wargames. Released in 1983 it brought the realities of computers, the Internet and hacking into the public spotlight. The film was a financial success and has become a favorite of audiences around the world.
Most Infamous Hackers Of All Time
- John Draper
Draper is credited with being one of the first hackers and perhaps the first whistle-blower of the digital age. He discovered that a toy distributed in a box of Captain Crunch cereal mimicked the tone needed to trick the phone company into thinking his calls were over when they weren’t. Members of his group included Steve Wozniak of Apple fame. Draper was later found out and convicted of toll fraud.
- Vladimir Levin
Levin is known as the world’s first digital bank robber. He hacked into the Citibank network and listened as account managers talked to their clients. He used the information to reroute $10 million dollars into accounts he controlled. Eventually caught Levin plead guilty to a single count of fraud for a sum of only $3.7 million. All except $400,000 was returned. Levin himself had to pay Citibank $240,000, I wonder where he got the money from?
- Gary McKinnon
McKinnon hacked into over 100 US military networks for the sole purpose of proving he could, and because he believed they were withholding information about aliens. While the US government claims he is a criminal he never stole anything during his self-labeled “moral crusade”. He left the message “your security is crap” on the screens of infiltrated devices and to this day has not been held liable for his alleged crimes. At last report he was peddling his talents as an SEO (Search Engine Optimization expert).
- Johnathon James
James is the first minor to be convicted of cybercrime in the US. At the young age of 15 this tender lad hacked into his school system, the Department of Defense and NASA. One of the things he stole from NASA was the source code for the International Space Station. His tampering caused NASA to shut down for over a month and caused more than $40,000 in damages. His tampering with the DoD left a back door for him to access the system with as well as a sniffer program designed to track down targeted messages between DoD employees.
Astra is the code name of a still undisclosed Greek national caught stealing and selling French military secrets. He hacked into the network of a major French aeronautics company and stole secrets for more than 4 years. The cost of his theft is estimated at $350,000, at last report he was still serving time.
- Kevin Mitnick
Mitnick is one of the most notorious hackers of all time. He hacked into cell phones to make calls and stole code from major companies like Novell and Sun Microsystems. In an interview with the New York Times he told them he’d even hacked into the NSA’s phone system. After years spent on the run he was later caught in North Carolina . He pled guilty to a series of fraud charges which cost him 5 years in jail. He now works as a security consultant.
- James Kosta
Kosta ran a ring of hackers who tapped into major banks, IBM and GE. . . at the age of 14. Once caught and convicted he chose to join the Navy instead working as an intelligence analyst. Several years later he joined the CIA working to track terrorists. After that he became a DotCOM millionaire and now works mentoring troubled youth to realize their full potential.
- John MacAfee
Yes, the founder and creator of MacAfee virus protection, is a hacker. He was caught up in a scandal while living in Belize. The scandal involved drugs, government officials and bribes. The fallout resulted in MacAfee hacking into the Belize government network and uncovering corruption and murder. MacAfee had to go into hiding because of his actions and remained there for several years. He has since resurfaced and begun to make new headlines, one of the latest when he offered to hack into an iPhone for the FBI.
- Stephen Wozniak
The Woz is famous for his role as a co-founder of Apple but his activities do not end there. In college he made “blue boxes” to break into phone lines and make free long distance calls.
- Adrian Lamo
Early in his career Lamo earned the nickname “homeless hacker” due to his transient lifestyle and success at penetrating the networks of AOL, Yahoo and others. He eventually hacked into the New York Times and stole information on 3,000 authors at the paper, among other things. He was convicted, given probation and fined $65,000. His real claim to fame though is turning in Wikileaks source Chelsea Manning. Manning is a former US Army soldier convicted of sharing top-secret information with Wikileaks.
- Robert Morris
Morris is credited with the invention of Internet worms, programs intended to infect and slow down computer activity, and may be the most infamous hacker in the world. Originally intended as a means of measuring the size of the Internet, the program Morris created had an unintended consequence: it could infect the same device multiple times causing it to slow to the point of uselessness. The worm eventually infected 10% of the Internet causing an estimated $10 million in damages. Morris pleaded guilty with no malicious intent and received a light sentence. He is now a professor at MIT, his alma matter.
- David L. Smith
Smith may be the most infamous hacker in history. He is the author and distributor of the Mellisa Virus, the first email-aware virus to hit the Internet. It made its way across the net on the Usenet discussion group alt.sex. He was found guilty of the hack and served under 2 years in prison, estimated damages were in excess of $80 million. The Melissa Virus is a macro virus, a virus written in a code embedded within a software, and runs automatically when an infected document is opened.
Most Infamous Hacker Groups
Anonymous is a hacker organization established in 2003 around a core group whose members often use the brand to put forth their own messages. The group is an anarchistic decentralized organization that operates “on ideas rather than objectives” calling themselves Hacktivists. One of their most famous attacks was on the Church of Scientology when they overwhelmed the church’s servers with a DDOS attack causing them to crash. The group recently took credit for hacking Donald Trump’s personal info and releasing it to the public. Among the groups logos are the Guy Fawkes Mask and the Headless Leader.
The 414’s are a group established in the early 80’s among friends with an interest in hacking. They are responsible for a hacking into the Los Alamos National Laboratory among other high profile organizations. The group was later determined to be 6 teenagers who’d taken their name from the local IBM sponsored Explorer post. Their leader and spokesman Neil Patrick became an instant celebrity when the ring was cracked and was even featured on an episode of Phil Donahue.
- Cicada 3301
Cicada 3301 is a relatively newer group operating on the web. The group has engaged in actively recruiting hackers from the public using a series of games and puzzles to test their skills. The stated purpose of the puzzles is to recruit highly intelligent individuals but the true motives remain unknown. Some claim to have solved the puzzles which resulted in an invitation to join a secret forum and begin working on projects to further the groups goals of Internet privacy, freedom of information and rejection of censorship.
- Cult of the Dead Cow
The Cult of the Dead Cow or cDc is a hacker and DIY (do it yourself) digital media group founded in the early 80’s. The group is located in Lubbock, TX and operates a weblog along with a website. Their stated goal is “global domination through media saturation”. To further that goal they have participated in numerous interviews on TV and online.
- The Digital Dawg Pound
The Digital Dawg Pound is a group of hackers best known for a series of articles, interviews, radio shows and an incredibly active forum. The groups stated mission is to propagate a more positive image of hackers than what is commonly found in mass media today. Ultimately they want to show that hackers can and do make a positive contribution to society on a regular basis.
- Equation Group
The Equation Group is a group of hackers thought to be tied to the US National Security Agency. The Equation Group represents what is known as an Advanced Persistent Threat, a highly advanced form of attack targeted to large corporations or governments. Kaspersky has noted hundreds of malware attacks by the group, primarily targeted at governments in Eastern Europe, the Middle and Near East. The name Equation Group is a nod toward their preference for highly sophisticated encryption techniques. The group is thought to be part of The Tailored Access Operations office, the NSA’s cyber warfare intelligence gathering unit.
Hackweiser is an underground hacking group well known for defacing high profile websites their logo and slogan. Playing off the Budweiser advertising campaign their slogan was “This Hacks For You”. The group eventually disbanded after one of their major players was arrested on cyber crime charges. At last report many of the former members are still actively working as black and gray hat hackers.
- The Xbox Underground
The Xbox Underground was an international group of black hat hackers who targeted game developers. Active around 2012 – 2013 the group is best know for its hack of Microsoft and associated developers in order to gain sensitive knowledge about the Xbox. According to the 65-page indictment the group infiltrated the Microsoft network numerous times in their search for valuable information.
- The Shadow Brokers
The Shadow Brokers or TSB first appeared in the summer of 2016. The group rose to notoriety after publishing several NSA leaks tying the agency to zero-day attacks and other black hat hacking techniques. The TSB originally blamed the leaks on the Equation Group although later took responsibility for their actions.
Use VPN To Protect From Hackers
There are things you just can’t protect yourself from and hacking is one of them. If a motivated and knowledgeable individual wishes to penetrate your system, access your devices, monitor your connections or steal your data – they will. It may take them a long time, they may not like what they find but they could do it, if they wanted to. And when you are using free WiFi in such hotspots as cafes, co-working spaces, hotels, airports, etc. – you open the doors to your devices and all the sensitive information they contain or send over the Internet even to beginner hackers. That being said there is a method of securing and protecting your computer, data and Internet connections that will make hacking you so much trouble it is highly unlikely you ever will be. VPN.
VPN stands for virtual private network and is the method that governments, large corporations and savvy hackers of both colors use to protect themselves on Internet. VPN protection from hackers creates secure connections using dedicated servers, tunneling protocols and encryption so that when you are on the Internet you are hard to see, hard to track and impossible to read. Even in public WiFi places, a VPN keeps you 100% secure. Aside from protection from hacking, VPNs also protect users from digital eavesdropping, data collection and other invasions of privacy.
Originally only available to those with the resources and skill to set up their own VPN connection, VPNs are now available for commercial use. Le VPN is a top provider with service as low as $4.95 per month. A single membership allows 2 devices to connect simultaneously or use one of Le VPN’s enabled servers to protect every device in your home or office. Hackers aren’t going to just quit hacking, but you can beat them at their game by getting Le VPN. I use VPN to protect my privacy, you should too.