In today’s ever more digitally connected world
a new breed of criminal has arisen: the hacker,
or cyber criminal.
Some hackers claim to act for the public good,
leaking sensitive and derogatory government
information or revealing the depths of a corporation’s corruption.
Most however are just simple crooks, and while for many they can successfully evade the law for a time, the law inevitably catches up with them.
today we’re taking a look at hackers who got busted.
3. Kevin Poulsen
Kevin Poulsen, known online as Dark Dante, was a prolific hacker who at age 23 hacked
into a federal computer network.
This time he decided he’d snoop on files centered around a federal investigation into the notorious Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos.
A notoriously corrupt official, Marcos had
stolen billions from the Philippines and had
a long record of human rights abuses.
No doubt a sensitive subject, Poulsen’s intrusion was swiftly detected and the feds started coming after Poulsen.
Going on the run, Poulsen went underground
for 17 months, but like most other hackers
couldn’t resist the temptation to keep on hacking.
As if he hadn’t brought enough heat on himself
already, Poulsen hacked into the FBI’s network
and revealed wiretap details for mobsters, foreign politicians, and even the American Civil Liberties Union.
Public outcry at the leaked details led the FBI to lend their support for the search for Poulsen, but Poulsen still couldn’t help himself- he and some friends took over the phone lines for an LA radio station and ensured they would be the winning callers in various contests, ultimately getting two Porsches, several Hawaiian vacations, and $20,000 in cash.
But as the search for Poulsen intensified, the popular TV show Unsolved Mysteries aired a segment on the renegade hacker, and despite
the studio’s phone lines going dead when the
segment aired, employees of a local supermarket that had seen the show contacted the authorities anyways after recognizing Poulsen from the episode.
The Hannibal Lecter of Computer Crime
Called the “The Hannibal Lecter of Computer Crime”, a judge decided to hold Poulsen without bail for five years in federal prison while the government put their case against him together- that’s how extensive Poulsen’s cyber crime spree had been.
Yet at the end they only charged him with
lesser crimes such as money laundering and
wire fraud, sentenced to time served, and
released on probation, not allowed to touch
a computer for three years.
These days Poulsen is a respected journalist
who writes about computer security for Wired
Magazine, along with several books.
He’s also turned his prolific skills as a hacker for good by finding 744 registered sex offenders who used Myspace to troll for underage victims.
2. Albert Gonzalez
Up next is a story of a bad guy turning good
guy turning bad guy again.
Known online as CumbaJohnny, Albert Gonzalez was the ringleader of shadowcrew.com, a black market website where hackers sold stolen credit card numbers, social security numbers, passports- basically anything one would need to falsify an identity or steal a real one.
Operating successfully for years, Gonzalez was ultimately discovered and arrested for credit card fraud in 2003.
Upon his arrest however Gonzalez agreed to
become an informant for the government in
exchange for his freedom, playing a key role in Operation: Firewall- a massive program which targeted the world’s most prolific hackers.
With Gonzalez’s help the US government arrested 28 hackers across eight states and six foreign countries, all of them indicted on charges of selling 1.7 million credit card numbers.
Immune to prosecution due to his cooperation,
Gonzalez was offered a job with the Secret Service, which he happily took.
Taking on the online persona of soupnazi-
after the famous Seinfield episode- Gonzalez
got to work snaring hackers for the US government.
Went Back to Crime(Hacking)
Because Gonzalez had taught the government
most of what they knew about hacking though,
it was easy for him to cover his tracks as he went on to secretly begin his life of crime a new.
Partnering with Ukranian hacker Maksym Yastremski, known as Maksik, Gonzalez began installing packet sniffers on vulnerable store networks across the US.
Driving around with a laptop hooked up to a powerful antenna, Gonzalez and his friends
breached the networks of stores such as TJMaxx, target, and Barnes & Noble, and installed their packet sniffers which would secretly grab credit and debit card data.
That data was then sent to one of Yastremski’s
computers all the way in Turkey, while two
other European cohorts hacked Heartland Payment Systems, stealing credit card information from 130 million transactions.
In a not exactly subtle move, Gonzalez left his job with the Secret Service and began living the high life, buying a brand new BMW and blowing thousands of dollars every weekend as he partied with his hacker friends.
Though the Secret Service suspected that Gonzalez was back to his criminal ways, they couldn’t quite prove it- Gonzalez had taught them everything they knew about hacking in the first place!
However it was only a matter of time before
the law caught up with Gonzalez and his crew,
as Ukrainian authorities arrested Yastremski
and discovered over 600 instant message conversations with Gonzalez.
Indicted in August 2008, Gonzalez’s high life
was brought to a quick end, and today he’s
spending a 20 year prison sentence behind
However it’s estimated that the companies
Gonzalez victimized have spent more than $400 million to repair the damage done by him and his crew.
1. Adrian Lamo
Known as the ‘homeless hacker’, Adrian Lamo was often seen as a modern day Robin Hood, or at least a generally benign hacker.
Rising to prominence in 2001, at 20 years
old he took advantage of an unguarded content
management tool at Yahoo! to modify a Reuters article, and managed to add a fake quote attributed to US Attorney General John Ashcroft- whom as the head of the justice department you really probably don’t want to mess with.
Lamo would go on to hack into the systems of Worldcom, only to as he so often did, contact the victim to let them know of their security
Hacking into other corporate networks, Lamo
grew a reputation of being a generally benign
hacker, and was even thanked by some of his
victims for showing them how to improve their
However in 2002 Lamo stepped a bit into the
shadows when he hacked into the New York Times intranet and included his own name on a list of expert hacking sources, and then used the newspaper’s LexisNexis account to research high-profile individuals.
After a criminal complaint was filed against him, Lamo surrendered to US Marshalls and plead guilty to one felony count of computer crimes against Microsoft, LexisNexis, and The New York Times.
He would be sentenced to two years probation
with six months to be served in home detention, and ordered to pay $65,000 in restitution.
Back to Crime (Hacking)
Lamo would swing back into the light though when in May 2010 he reported to US Army authorities that Chelsea Manning had been leaking a large body of classified documents to Wikileaks, to include 260,000 classified United States diplomatic cables.
The backlash against Lamo from Wikileaks and the hacker community was intense, with Wikileaks calling him and Kevin Poulsen “notorious felons, informers and manipulators”.
Hackers at the 2010 Hackers on Planet Earth
conferenced labeled him a snitch, with one
commenter after his speech during a panel discussion saying that what he did was tantamount to treason.
However, Lamo defended his actions as wanting to help save lives, and the brutal murder of Afghan nationals named in the leaked documents by the Taliban showed just how many lives were at stake from Manning’s careless leaking.
Disappearing after turning in Manning and claiming to be fearful for his life, Lamo popped up in the public eye from time to time, but would go on to die in Wichita Kansas on
March 14th, 2018 at the age of 37.
After an autopsy revealed no definite cause of death, conspiracy theories exploded across the internet on the real cause- everything from the US government to other hackers receiving the blame for his death.
Most of our hackers operated in the early days of the internet, before computer security was as stringent and thorough as it is today.
Yet hacking can still be a lucrative crime for many, and as the world grows ever more connected, it’s a crime that’s guaranteed to grow.
Most of the hackers who get busted every year
by the military should have probably taken better steps to protect themselves, and even
though you may not be a nefarious hacker, today’s dangerous cyber environment means
that you should take steps to protect yourself
Have you ever hacked anything?
Ever been the victim of a hack?
Let us know in the comments!
Also be sure to check out: 10 Most Dangerous Hackers of All Time