Famous Hackers

Top 10 Hackers of All Time

Computer hacking is the act of identifying and exploiting system and network vulnerabilities in order to obtain unauthorized access to those systems. Not all hacking is malicious. White hat hackers may work in cyber security. As software engineers and testers seeking out vulnerabilities in order to fix them. Black hat hackers operate with malicious intent. 

The hacker activity didn’t occur overnight. It took decades of work by now-famous hackers to discover critical vulnerabilities and reveal the strategies that established the foundations of the internet. Here’s a look at the top ten most famous hackers of all time.

Famous Hackers
Famous Hackers

Famous hackers of all time.

Kevin Mitnick

 In 1981, he was charged with stealing computer manuals from Pacific Bell. In 1982, he hacked the North American Defense Command (NORA. This inspired the 1983 film War Games. In 1989, he hacked Digital Equipment Corporation’s (DEC) network and made copies of their software. He was later arrested, convicted and sent to prison. During his conditional release, he hacked Pacific Bell’s voicemail systems. Although Mitnick ultimately went white hat, he may be part of the both-hats grey area.


The group exhibits little organization and is loosely focused on the concept of social justice. For example, in 2008 the group attacked the Church of Scientology and begin disabling their websites, thus negatively impacting their search rankings in Google and overwhelming its fax machines with all-black images. In March 2008, a group of “Anons” marched passed Scientology centers around the world wearing the now-famous Guy Fawkes mask. While the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have tracked down some of the group’s more prolific members, the lack of any real hierarchy makes it almost impossible to identify or eliminate Anonymous as a whole.

Adrian Lamo

In 2001, 20-year-old Adrian Lamo used an unprotected content management tool at Yahoo to modify a Reuters article and add a fake quote attributed to former Attorney General John Ashcroft. Lamo often hacked systems and then notified both the press and his victims. In some cases, he’d help clean up the mess to improve their security. As Wired points out, however, Lamo took things too far in 2002, when he hacked The New York Times’ intranet, added himself to the list of expert sources and began conducting research on high-profile public figures. 

Albert Gonzalez

According to the New York Daily News, Gonzalez, dubbed “soupnazi,” got his start as the “troubled pack leader of computer nerds” at his Miami high school. He eventually became active on criminal commerce site Shadowcrew.com and was considered one of its best hackers and moderators. At 22, Gonzalez was arrested in New York for debit card fraud related to stealing data from millions of card accounts. To avoid jail time, he became an informant for the Secret Service, ultimately helping indict dozens of Shadowcrew members.

During his time as a paid informant, Gonzalez continued his in criminal activities. Along with a group of accomplices, Gonzalez stole more than 180 million payment card accounts from companies including OfficeMax, Dave and Buster’s and Boston Market.

Matthew Bevan and Richard Pryce

Matthew Bevan and Richard Pryce are a team of British Famous Hackers who hacked into multiple military networks in 1996, including Griffiss Air Force Base, the Defense Information System Agency and the Korean Atomic Research Institute (KARI). Bevan (Kuji) and Pryce (Datastream Cowboy) have been accused of nearly starting a third world war after they dumped KARI research onto American military systems.

Jeanson James Ancheta 

Jeanson James Ancheta had no interest in hacking systems for credit card data or crashing networks to deliver social justice. Instead, Ancheta was curious about the use of bots—software-based robots that can infect and ultimately control computer systems. Using a series of large-scale “botnets,” he was able to compromise more than 400,000 computers in 2005. According to Ars Technica, he then rented these machines out to advertising companies and was also paid to directly install bots or adware on specific systems. Ancheta was sentenced to 57 months in prison. This was the first time a hacker was sent to jail for the use of botnet technology.

Michael Calce

In February 2000, 15-year-old Michael Calce, also known as “Mafiaboy,” discovered how to take over networks of university computers. He used their combined resources to disrupt the number-one search engine at the time: Yahoo. Within one week, he’d also brought down Dell, eBay, CNN and Amazon using a distributed-denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that overwhelmed corporate servers and caused their websites to crash. Calce’s wake-up call was perhaps the most jarring for cyber crime investors and internet proponents. If the biggest websites in the world—valued at over $1 billion—could be so easily sidelined, was any online data truly safe? It’s not an exaggeration to say that the development of cyber crime legislation suddenly became a top government priority thanks to Calce’s hack.

Kevin Poulsen

In 1983, a 17-year-old Poulsen, using the alias Dark Dante, hacked into ARPANET, the Pentagon’s computer network. Although he was quickly caught, the government decided not to prosecute Poulsen, who was a minor at the time. Instead, he was let off with a warning.

Poulsen didn’t heed this warning and continued hacking. In 1988, Poulsen hacked a federal computer and dug into files pertaining to the deposed president of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos. When discovered by authorities, Poulsen went underground. While he was on the run, Poulsen kept busy, hacking government files and revealing secrets. According to his own website, in 1990, he hacked a radio station contest and ensured that he was the 102nd caller, winning a brand new Porsche, a vacation, and $20,000.

Poulsen was soon arrested and barred from using a computer for three years. He has since converted to white hat hacking and journalism, writing about cyber security.

Jonathan James

According to the New York Times, what really earned James attention was his hack into the computers of the United States Department of Defense. Even more impressive was the fact that James was only 15 at the time. In an interview with PC Mag, James admitted that he was partly inspired by the book The Cuckoo’s Egg, which details the hunt for a computer hacker in the 1980s. His hacking allowed him to access over 3,000 messages from government employees, usernames, passwords and other sensitive data.

James was arrested in 2000 and was sentenced to a six months house arrest and banned from recreational computer use. However, a probation violation caused him to serve six months in jail. Jonathan James became the youngest person to be convicted of violating cyber crime laws. In 2007, TJX, a department store, was hacked and many customer’s private information were compromised. Despite a lack of evidence, authorities suspect that James may have been involved.

In 2008, James committed suicide by gunshot. According to the Daily Mail, his suicide note stated, “I have no faith in the ‘justice’ system. Perhaps my actions today, and this letter, will send a stronger message to the public. Either way, I have lost control over this situation, and this is my only way to regain control.”


This hacker differs from the others on this list in that he has never been identified. However, according to the Daily Mail, some information has been released about ASTRA. Namely that he was apprehended by authorities in 2008, and at that time he was identified as a 58-year-old Greek mathematician. Reportedly, he had been hacking into the Dassault Group, for almost half a decade. During that time, he stole cutting edge weapons technology software and data which he then sold to 250 individuals around the world. His hacking cost the Dassault Group $360 million in damages. No one knows why his complete identity has never been revealed, but the word ‘ASTRA’ is a Sanskrit word for ‘weapon’