Hacking is one of those interesting professions, similar to a spy or conman, in which your level of fame is not necessarily an indicator of your proficiency or skill in the area. In fact, one could argue that, in hacking, the more famous you are the less skill you have in your job – namely hacking into things and getting out again undetected. In fact, most of the hackers on this list were caught and arrested for their crimes. However, two of them were subsequently given
One of the most infamous hacking cases in European history, UK-born McKinnon (who has severe Asperger’s syndrome) was the perpetrator of the ‘largest military computer hack of all time’ when he attacked US military systems over the space of several months between 2001 and 2002. Causing $700,000 worth of damage, McKinnon deleted critical files on key systems – causing the entire Washington Network of the US Military to crash for 24 hours. After being caught he claimed was looking for evidence of UFO abductions, repressed technology and other conspiracy theories.
The UK government of the day wanted to extradite McKinnon to the US to face charges that could see him potentially spend the rest of his life in prison. Many celebrities and media outlets supported McKinnon and his parents however, and it was claimed that there was a ‘high risk of suicide’ were he to be deported to serve a life sentence. Ultimately, the extradition order was blocked by future Prime Minister Theresa May in 2012.
Whilst not the first name that comes to mind when one thinks hacking, the future co-founder of Apple Inc. was actually an accomplished white-hat hacker during his early student days. From as young as 15 years old, Wozniak was hacking phone lines to get free phone calls – or calling up the offices of famous people such as The Pope, just to prove he could. He was eventually expelled from the University of Boulder in Colorado in 1969, after (among other pranks) sending reams of bawdy Polish jokes across the school’s developing computer network.
Eventually his computer prowess would allow Wozniak turn to far more legitimate enterprises. In 1976 he developed and designed the Apple 1, which would go on to be the flagship product of Apple Inc – today one of the world’s most iconic and successful companies. In 2019, Wozniak’s net worth is close to $1 billion USD.
Probably the most famous American hacker of the 90s, Kevin Mitnick started out his career manipulating the punch card system of the Los Angeles bus network to get free rides. He soon turned this into a million-dollar illegal business, before being forced to go on the run by federal investigators in 1995. A master manipulator of all kinds of systems, computer or otherwise, Mitnick refused to call himself a hacker and preferred the term ‘social engineering’ for his activities.
After a two-year manhunt across the US, Kevin was eventually caught and ended up serving 6 years in prison. Upon his release, he was immediately offered several high-tech job positions and today runs his own online security company out of Las Vegas, Nevada.