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1. Kevin Poulsen is infamous for the hacking stunt that he did on June 1, 1990. Poulson hacked into the telephone lines of Los Angeles radio station KIIS-FM to make sure that he was the 102nd caller to the win the prize of a Porsche 944 S2.
When the Federal Bureau of Investigation learned about his trick, they pursued him and he went underground. He was later found, arrested, and went to prison for five years. He was the first American ever to be released from prison with a ban on the use of a computer for three years. When he was featured on NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries, the phone lines of the show mysteriously crashed.
2. In August 2007, 17-year-old George Hotz unlocked an iPhone becoming the first known person to do so. Unlocked iPhones were of high value as then they could be used with any of the carriers which was not what Apple or AT&T wanted. When he unlocked his second iPhone, he traded it for a Nissan 350z and three 8 GB iPhones. His was a hardware-based unlocking method which was the rage until an anonymous group discovered a software-based one.
In December 2009, Hotz had successfully breached security on Sony’s PlayStation 3. On July 13, 2010, Hotz declared that due to unwanted personal attention and because he was demotivated with technology, he was discontinuing his hacking activities. But on January 2, 2011, he posted a copy of the root keys of Sony’s PlayStation 3 following which Sony sued him. The lawsuit was settled out of court as Hotz “promised” not to meddle with any other Sony device in the future.
3. Jonathan Joseph James, a hacker, was only 15 when he hacked into the systems of NASA and the United States Department of Defense (DOD) along with some private companies and schools in June 1999. A native of Miami who operated under the nickname of “Comrade,” stole data worth 1.7 million dollars from 13 computers at NASA. NASA had to shut down its network for 21 days to investigate the breach that cost them an additional 41,000 dollars.
The source code that James stole controlled important elements for survival aboard the International Space Station including the controlling of temperature and humidity. NASA had to rewrite that part of the source code. He also became the first person in the world to crack into the network of DOD’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency which is a division responsible for analyzing possible threats to the United States. He intercepted 3,000 messages that gave him access to usernames and passwords of several employees that also gave him access to ten military computers.
When he was arrested, computer crimes were not fully codified, and since he was a juvenile, he was charged with two counts of “juvenile delinquency.” He was placed under a six-month home arrest and asked to write apology letters to NASA and DOD. If he had committed the crime three years later, he would have been imprisoned for at least ten years and would have had to pay a fine of thousands of dollars.
4. Kevin Mitnick was a controversial hacker who was arrested in 1995 and sentenced to five years in prison for computer and communications-related crimes. His trial, arrest, and pursuit were all such high-profile that they created a lot of media buzz. He gained unauthorized access for the first time into a computer at the age of 16 in 1979 after a friend gave him the phone number for Ark, the computer system used by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). He was arrested for this in 1988 for 12 months followed by three years in a supervised release, but Mitnick hacked into another computer system before the supervised release ended and went into hiding.
He used cloned cell phones to hide his real location and stole valuable software from the United States’ largest cell phone companies. He also read private e-mails of many people. When arrested, he was found with more than 100 cell phone clone codes and several cloned cell phones along with false identification documents. Out of the five odd years he served in prison, for four and a half years, he was on trial, and for the rest of his sentence of eight months, he was kept in solitary confinement. This was because a few law enforcement officers told a judge that he could whistle into a pay phone and start a nuclear war.
5. One of the most notorious hackers in history, Gary McKinnon was the brain behind the “biggest military computer hacks of all time.” He said that he hacked into 97 American military and NASA servers to find evidence for UFO cover-ups and energy suppression that were potentially useful to the public. He hacked into these systems over a 13-month period from his girlfriend’s aunt’s house in London under the name of “Solo.”
The critical files he deleted from the computers made the United States Army’s Military District of Washington’s network of 2,000 computers shut down for 24 hours. He was charged with seven counts of computer-related crimes that each came with a ten-year sentence, but he was not extradited to the United States. Instead, he served a three-year sentence in the United Kingdom. Controversies happened when he protested his extradition to the United States with British MPs coming to his rescue.
6. “Xbox Underground” broke into Microsoft’s computer network and spent hundreds of hours copying log-in credentials, source code, and other data between 2011 and 2013. Using these credentials, they carried out theft of the development kits of the unreleased Xbox One consoles from Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters driven by curiosity. The hacker group also breached the network of Zombie Studios and gained access to the simulator software for the United States military’s Apache helicopters.
David Pokora, an infamous hacker who was in the ranks of this group, was the first foreign hacker who was tried in the United States. Three others from the hackers’ group pleaded guilty to the charges leveled against them, while one helped the FBI track the group down.
7. Higinio Ochoa got into hacking as a child, but when the “Occupy Wall Street” movement began in 2011, his agenda turned political. He hacked into police departments’ websites to reveal the names of the police officers who used tear gas and sticks on protesters while covering the badges on their uniforms. He joined a hacking group called “Cabin Cr3w” and also got associated with Anonymous.
One day, he hacked into the FBI’s criminal database that was linked to another website of the Alabama Department of Public Safety to which he had gained access. He left behind his trademark image of a woman in bikini with the words, “PwNd by w0rmer & CabinCr3w –
8. “Starbug” whose real name is Jan Krissler, used a commercial software called VeriFinger and several photographs of the German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to recreate her fingerprint. One of these photos was taken by him from three meters away so that he could reverse-engineer the fingerprint.
In yet another stunt that he did in 2013, he created a dummy finger from a smudge on the screen of the newly released iPhone 5S and defeated Apple’s TouchID sensors. He created the dummy finger using wood glue and sprayable graphene and unlocked a phone registered to someone else’s fingerprint. In a demonstration, sometime after that, he said that he could spoof the sensors even without having access to a “smudge on the screen.” Krissler told a publication that he considers using passwords safer than using fingerprints.
9. Two gamblers, John Kane and Andre Nestor, exploited a bug in IGT’s Game King machine in the casinos of Las Vegas that enabled them to win a half a million dollars. Kane had found out about a firmware bug that let him play a prior winning hand again at ten times the original value in the video poker machine. He was arrested at the Silverton Casino Lodge in July 2009 after the casino noticed suspicious play. His friend, Andra Nestor, was arrested in Pennsylvania.
When they were charged with computer and wire fraud in January 2011, the federal prosecutors alleged that they had to activate the bug through a complex system of pressing buttons which made it a form of hacking. But the defense argued that both the men pressed the buttons they were legally allowed to press and were playing by the rules, terming it a “lucky streak.” They won the case.
Following the attack, the Epilepsy foundation had to shut down their website for a day and strengthen their security. This was the first computer attack that was intended to inflict physical harm on people.