What Makes a Hacker?
People hack computer systems and networks for a multitude of reasons, some as basic as greed and others as complex as social activism. The practice put down roots in 1983 when Kevin Poulson was arrested for breaking into Arpanet, an early incarnation of what we now know to be the internet. Things proliferated thereafter, with Fred Cohen developing the first computer virus a year later, spawning the first generation of super hackers led by figures such as Loyd Blankenship, who infamously penned the Hacker Manifesto.
Some of the Biggest Hacks
When it comes to the hacking of military and space agencies, the unrivalled kings are the unassuming Gary McKinnon and his 15-year-old accomplice, Jonathan James, who amongst other things managed to interrupt munitions supplies to US warships. When it comes to the number of users affected by a hack, James and McKinnon’s actions paled in comparison to the one suffered by Adobe in 2013, when over 38 million users accounts were stripped of their sensitive data. However, this was then dwarfed by the Playstation hack carried out by Lulzsec, a hacker collective who were able to steal the personal data of 77 million customers and shut down the Playstation Network for a whole month.
Loyd Blankenship aka The Mentor
As previously mentioned, The Mentor is seen by many as the godfather of hacking, despite only being a second generation of the hacker collective rather wonderfully named Legion of Doom. His Hacker Manifesto, originally published by Phrack, was written at a time when he’d been arrested for his nefarious online activities and was coming to terms with the responsibility he realized came hand-in-hand with the power and knowledge to be able to hack. The final two lines of the manifesto were as exciting as they were chilling, as a new breed of renegade was released on the world, empowered by the possibilities of the worldwide web, “I am a hacker, and this is my manifesto. You may stop this individual, but you can’t stop us all… after all, we’re all alike.”
Due to many high-profile individual hackers enduring long spells in incarceration, many have decided it’s safer to operate as part of loosely connected collectives. One such collective is Anonymous, renowned for their V for Vendetta masks and the takedowns they impose on companies, governments and organizations they deem to have acted against a certain moral code. Amongst the targets affected have been the Church of Scientology, American politician Sarah Palin and the Spanish police service, to name but a few. Although some of the individuals involved in the collective have been tracked down, the majority are still at large or operating within the realms of the law.
Kevin Mitnick was made famous by the very people who feared him the most, as the US Government dubbed him the “most wanted computer criminal in US history.” When he was eventually tracked down he was treated to three years of supervised release, only to break free and undertake a wild hacking spree worthy of the big screen, which involved breaching firewalls at the US Department of Defense and obtaining valuable corporate secrets from huge conglomerates. Unafraid to court the attentions of law enforcement, Mitnick served a five year stretch in the slammer. Upon his release he set up his own computer security consultancy, a common journey for hackers tired of their passion’s recriminations.
Assange is best known as being the founder and leader of Wikileaks, who released highly sensitive US government files into the public domain with no redactions. However, Assange wasn’t always a journalist with a disregard for making edits, starting life as a young 16-year-old hacker who went by the screenname, Mendax. While lauded as some as the hero for press freedom the western world needs, he is wanted by US authorities who wish to put him in prison for the rest of his life.