It’s hard not to feel grudging admiration for some of the world’s best hackers. They’re largely self-taught, yet they can execute a wide range of computer and financial crimes that professional investigators struggle to crack.
Some hackers reject the dark side and start helping law enforcement. Others go into private practice, helping big banks and large corporations make their networks hack-proof.
Catching hackers has become a top national defense priority, creating a great opportunity for people with bachelor’s degrees in cybersecurity (click here to learn more). In their cybersecurity courses, students may study some of these legendary hackers. Ironically, they may even find themselves working alongside reformed hackers. To get an idea of what they’re up against, students can take a look at these five famous hackers.
Max “Iceman” Butler
Max Butler, also known by the alias “Max Vision,” used hacking to steal credit card numbers, but that wasn’t all he did. He hijacked the forums in which hackers sell stolen credit card data and made them conduct transactions through his business, CardersMarket.com.
However, before he became the world’s largest dealer of stolen debit and credit card information, Butler started out by volunteering as an FBI security consultant. His interest in law enforcement didn’t last, however, so he started writing worms that infiltrated NASA and the Air Force.
After serving 18 months for his cybercrimes, Butler became an FBI informant. Unfortunately, Butler returned to cybercrime, building his CardersMarket.com empire. He received a 13-year sentence, was ordered to pay $27.5 million in restitution andmust serve five years of supervised release after prison.
Robert Tappan Morris
Robert Tappan Morris created the world’s first computer worm in 1988. He released it onto a network and disabled 6,000 U.S. computers. When he was caught, Morris claimed that he was just trying to test the range of the Internet, but the worm he created had much more than just testing capabilities. It could probe different accounts to sniff out passwords.
He was sentenced to 400 hours of community service and paid a $10,000 fine. Morris eventually earned a doctoral degree from Harvard and became a professor at MIT.
Kevin Mitnick started his fraud career at age 12 by creating a fake document that allowed him to ride Los Angeles city buses for free. He then broke into the public telephone network and routed a family’s phone to a pay phone;he liked eavesdropping on their confusion when they were asked to deposit 10 cents to make a call.
Mitnick later ventured into hacking, cracking the networks of Digital Entertainment Corporation, Nokia and Motorola, for which he served a five-year sentence. He has leveraged the experience by founding a company called Defensive Thinking, Inc., and building a public speaking career.
Gary McKinnon hacked into the Department of Defense, NASA and several branches of the Armed Forces. He had one mission: to uncover the U.S. government’s stash of hidden alien technology. McKinnon believed that the U.S. was hiding tools left behind by aliens that could solve the global energy crisis. The damaged hard drives and deleted files that went along with his search were “accidental,” said McKinnon, and only happened because he was trying to cover his tracks.
In the summer of 2003, a New York City policeman watched a man dressed in a woman’s wig and a costume jewelry nose ring use a debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM. He then took out another debit card and withdrew more cash. The officer watched him work his way through a stack of debit cards before questioning him. The bewigged criminal, Albert Gonzalez, had programmed stolen credit card numbers into the magnetic strips on fake debit cards.
Gonzalez was no ordinary cross-dressing ATM thief. While allegedly helping authorities to track down financial criminals, he continued his involvement in Shadowcrew.com, a cybertheft forum in which criminals shared information about vulnerable banks and retailers. He obtained access to over 180 million credit card accounts, all while working as a government informant and giving presentations and seminars to the Secret Service. Gonzalez eventually received two concurrent 20-year sentences for his crimes.