Since the times of phone hackers, or “phreakers,” in the 1970s to modern-day cyber-hackers, there have been countless incidents of hacking, both harmless and damaging. The motivation behind the hacks has been varied, from money and national security to thrill and revenge. Age has never been a barrier for hackers, for the world has witnessed computer infiltration from children as young as 12. The stories of their exploits have always caught the attention of the masses and the media and have made it to the front page of newspapers. Here’s our list of the 10 most notorious hackers that made the headlines.
1. Nineteen-year-old Raphael Gray published stolen credit card details of 6,500 cards and declared that the police were too incompetent to stop him. The young hacker’s continuous bragging and complete lack of ethics drove ex-hacker Chris Davis to track him down, which subsequently led to his arrest.
In 2000, this Welsh teenager, who likened his interest in hacking to that of a nosey neighbor, hacked into customer databases of companies based in the US, Canada, and Britain. He gained unauthorized access to 23,000 credit card details.
He then posted the stolen details of 6,500 cards on his websites. Claiming to have lifted the card details of Bill Gates, he purchases and had shipped the Microsoft owner some Viagra® tablets. Confident in the incompetence of the police, he proceeded to publish a message saying that law enforcement agencies would not be able to find him.
Gray also repeatedly bragged about his hacking achievements on Hacker News. This unwarranted confidence and apparent lack of ethics irked former hacker Chris Davis. He traced down his IP address to the UK in an hour and passed on the information to the FBI. After a month-long search, the FBI arrested Gray at his home in West Wales
In court, the defense claimed that Gray became interested in hacking and computers only after banging his head which caused “mental side effects.” In 2001, an unregretful Gray was sentenced to community rehabilitation and a three-year probation. (1, 2)
2. During the Quebec Student Uprising, a 12-year-old boy from Montreal hacked into websites of Quebec organizations and sold the accessed information to Anonymous for video games.
This young boy is a minor so his identity is protected. He hacked a couple of websites including that of the Quebec Institute of Public Health and the Montreal Police during the 2012 protest by Quebec students against a proposed hike in tuition. The damage cost of the intrusion was estimated to be $60,000
Due to the timing, the hack which brought down the websites and stole user information appeared to be politically motivated. But the hacker’s lawyer claimed the boy’s only motivation was the challenge of the task. However, he did trade the accessed information with the hacktivist group Anonymous for video games.
3. A member of Anonymous hacked the Westboro Baptist Church’s website in real-time while on air with the church’s spokesperson to disprove the church’s claim that the group was incapable of infiltrating their websites.
In 2012, the Westboro Baptist Church, infamous for their homophobic view and for picketing funerals of military personnel, challenged the hacktivist group Anonymous to infiltrate their websites.
The call was in response to a letter from the group that threatened the church with online attacks. However, Anonymous had previously made it clear that the letter was a hoax and they had no intention to hack the church’s websites.
The unwarranted challenge led a member of the hacking group to hack and deface the church’s website while he was live on a radio show with a spokesperson of the church. The hacked website displayed a message that read, “Despite having the capability to hack your sites previously, we chose not to,” and that the group lost patience with the church due to “…their recent antics to gain media attention.”
The successful hack made the church reconsider their sites’ security, of which they were very confident, and forced them to take down all their websites for security reasons.
4. Madonna attempted to combat piracy of her album American Life by circulating fake MP3s of the songs that looped, asking, “What the f*ck do you think you are doing?” The strategy backfired when a hacker released the original songs on her website with a message, “This is what the f*ck I think I’m doing.”
The famous singer wanted to counter pirated downloads of her album American Life. So she flooded the Internet with MP3s of the songs that just went into a loop with the words “What the f*ck do you think you are doing?” in Madonna’s own voice.
In response to this tactic, in April 2003, a hacker hacked into Madonna’s very own website and posted download links for all the songs. He also made sure to reply to the singer’s looped audio by placing a message on her homepage that read, “This is what the f*ck I think I’m doing.” He also took the time to propose to Morgan Webb, the host of The Screen Savers. (1, 2)
5. Evgeniy Bogachev created the malware GameOverZeus to steal millions of dollars from bank accounts around the world. The extent of the damage he wreaked can be estimated by the $3 million bounty placed on him by the FBI.
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 12, 2017
After developing the famous botnet GameOverZeus, the Russian hacker is touted as the “most wanted cybercriminal in the world.”
Going by the alias of “lucky 12345,” he installed GameOverZeus on targeted computers to capture sensitive information required to gain access to online bank accounts.
Through this, he built a widespread network of one million GameOverZeus-infected computers that he used to defraud banks of hundreds of millions. He is also believed to have extorted money through blackmail by gaining access to valuable files of the victims by running ransomware.