Most of us know what hacking is: accessing and exploiting a device, system, or network. Alarmingly, it is projected that in 2023 hackers will steal 33 billion records.
But are you aware that there are three different kinds of hackers?
White-hat hackers have the authority to test systems to look for and identify security vulnerabilities.
Black-hat hackers operate purely with malicious intent.
Gray-hat hackers can be fun-seekers or activists wanting to make a statement.
There’s no shortage of famous hackers to discuss. However, the following list is a mix of all three types, including some who became white-hat hackers.
#1. Kevin Mitnick
Mitnick, a US citizen, was only a teenager when his extraordinary hacking career began.
In 1982 he hacked the North American Defense Command, an act that inspired the film “War Games”. He later hacked the Digital Equipment Corporation’s (DEC) network and copied their software. Mitnick was arrested, convicted of wire and computer fraud, and imprisoned.
During his conditional release, he fled and went on a two-and-a-half-year hacking spree that involved hacking Pacific Bell’s voicemail systems, breaching the national defense warning system, and stealing corporate secrets.
The US Department of Justice called him the “most wanted computer criminal in US history” and Mitnick was also one of the FBI’s Most Wanted.
In 2014 he began selling unpatched, critical software exploits to the highest bidder. Now, he is a sought-after consultant and speaker and runs Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC.
#2. Michael Calce
Like Mitnick, Calce also began his hacking ‘career’ when he was a teenager.
At the age of 15, he managed to take over university networks. Then, he used their combined resources to take down Yahoo which was the leading search engine at the time.
A week later, he launched his Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack against Amazon, CNN, eBay, and Dell and shut these billion-dollar companies down by overwhelming their servers and causing their websites to crash.
These attacks were a huge wake-up call to corporations and governments alike. Certainly, Calce’s attack caused cybercrime legislation to shoot to the top of the US agenda.
In addition to businesses, individuals globally now take cybersecurity far more seriously. For example, it’s important to get a VPN as part of your strategy to keep hackers away.
Today Calce is a white-hat hacker who promotes cybersecurity, provides awareness training to help protect businesses, and offers a valuable security system testing service.
#3. Adrian Lamo
Lamo was firstly noted by the authorities in 2001 when he was 20. He used an unprotected content management tool at Yahoo and modified a Reuters article by adding a fake quote attributed to former Attorney General John Ashcroft.
His M.O. was to hack systems and then notify the press and his victim. Sometimes, he’d help clean up the mess to improve their security. In 2002 he hacked The New York Times’ intranet, added himself as an expert source, and began conducting research on high-profile public figures.
He also accessed Yahoo, LexisNexis, Google, and Microsoft before he was arrested in 2003. In 2010, after serving his sentence, he was contacted by an army private who told him about the leak of a classified video to Wikileaks. Lamo reported this theft to the FBI.
#4. Albert Gonzalez
At the age of 14, Gonzalez hacked into NASA. As a young adult, he was a member of the criminal commerce site called Shadowcrew.com and was viewed as one of its best hackers.
Shadowcrew hacked numerous organizations and stole data. They also fabricated fraudulent birth certificates, passports, and health insurance cards. Gonzalez was arrested for debit card fraud following data theft from millions of card accounts.
Instead of serving time, Gonzalez became an informant for the intelligence services. He helped to indict dozens of Shadowcrew members. However, the paid informant continued to carry out criminal hacking activities.
Along with accomplices, he stole more than 180 million payment card accounts. The organizations affected include TJX, Heartland Payment Systems, Boston Market, Dave & Buster’s, and OfficeMax. The TJX theft alone was estimated at $256 million.
As a result of this crime spree, Gonzalez was sentenced to two 20-year sentences, to be served concurrently. He is due for release in 2025.
Unlike the previous hackers, Anonymous is a group of unknown individuals. Since its start in 2003, this loose, decentralized group has focused on issues around social justice.
Their first notable target in 2008 was the Church of Scientology which had its websites disabled, damaging its search rankings, and its offices were overwhelmed with blank, black faxes.
Since then, members – or “hacktivists” – have targeted Sony, PayPal, Amazon, other churches, numerous governments, and sections of the Dark Web. While a couple of the more active members have been identified by the FBI, it’s impossible to dismantle the group.
Regardless of their motives (to prove it could be done, for fame or attention, for financial gain, or to make the world a better place), these hackers all have one thing in common: they played a critical role in the evolution of cyber security.
So, bizarre as it may sound, and despite the significant damage they did, we owe them a degree of gratitude!