Hackers mostly exist outside of the public consciousness, just doing their thing and going unnoticed. Every now and then, something big enough happens that everyone takes notice. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. Let’s take a look at five infamous hackers.
While not just one person, “Anonymous” might be the most well-known hacker group in the world. You’ve probably seen the Guy Fawkes mask worn by some in the community, inspired by the movie. V for Vendetta.
Anonymous started in 2003 on 4chan and has attacked numerous big-name targets ever since. Some of them include Amazon, the Church of Scientology, PayPal, and various governments around the world. Dozens of people have been arrested for their links with the group.
Best known for: In 2011, Anonymous shut down the PlayStation Network for an entire month in retaliation for Sony’s attempt to stop PlayStation 3 hacks. More than 100 million Sony accounts were compromised in the process.
Kevin Mitnick is an American hacker who started as a teenager. At 16, he broke into the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) computer network and copied the company’s software. He was later convicted of the crime at age 25.
While on the run for two and a half years, Mitnick hacked into dozens of computer networks. One of his favorite tactics was to clone cell phones to hide his location and then copy highly protected proprietary software from carriers and IT companies.
Best known for: It may not be the biggest stunt, but one of Mitnick’s stunts was the inspiration for a movie. The 1983 movie War Games was inspired by his 1982 NORAD stunt. He was only 17 years old.
Technically speaking, Edward Snowden is not a “hacker”. He used his privileges as NSA system administrator to leak 20,000 highly classified documents that revealed numerous global surveillance programs.
Snowden was able to access these documents without leaving a trace. The NSA was not monitoring the system for leaks, and Snowden took advantage of that lax security. He simply put the files on a USB drive and took them with him.
Best known for: Snowden’s leak of NSA documents has had a lasting impact on public opinion about government surveillance. Many people had no idea about the NSA’s internal Internet surveillance prior to Snowden’s massive leak (even though things like room 641A had been previously reported to exist).
Julian Assange started hacking when he was 16 years old under the name “Mendax”. In those early days, he was able to gain access to major networks at NASA, Lockheed Martin, and the Pentagon.
However, Assange is best known for creating WikiLeaks in 2006. WikiLeaks was a platform for publishing classified documents anonymously (not that Anonymous) sources. One of the most important sources was Chelsea Manning, an intelligence analyst for the US Army.
Best known for: WikiLeaks claimed in 2015 that it had released 10 million documents since it began in 2006. Many of these documents revealed significant human rights violations to the American and international public.
Adrian Lamo was a hacker known as the “Homeless Hacker”. He got the nickname by hacking companies from his laptop in coffee shops, libraries and other remote locations.
Some of the high-profile companies he hacked include Google, Microsoft, The New York Times, and Yahoo. When he hacked into The NYT in 2002, he added himself to the network’s list of expert sources and used the LexisNexis account to conduct research on high-profile topics.
Best known for: Lamo was eventually arrested and worked with the US government as a threat analyst. He is perhaps best known for handing over Chelsea Manning as a source for WikiLeaks documents.
Hackers are not inherently bad or good; it depends on the intentions of the person (or group) doing the hacking. Edward Snowden, for example, is highly controversial and has been called a hero for opening the curtain on the NSA and a traitor for revealing the same information. Wherever there are highly secure systems, there will be hackers trying to access them.
RELATED: Why “hackers” and “hacks” are not always bad