Five Famous Hacker Profiles: White and Black Hats

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Bozidar Spirovski


Article by Alexis Bonari

Hackers, like the cowboy heroes in classic Westerns, come with either a white or a black hat. Some wear both, but most can be distinctly classified according to the way they use their abilities: for good or for evil.

Black hats tend to wreak hacker havoc for personal gain or just to have fun with the general population by testing their skills and exploiting computer systems.

White hats, on the other hand, use their abilities to help create hacker-proof systems or occasionally bend laws to create innovative and exciting technology.

The following list of famous hackers includes both white and black hats, since the bad guys should never get all the attention.

Stephen Wozniak

Woz” is a white hat who is well-known for being the cofounder of Apple. His first hacking endeavor was to make free long-distance calls by creating “blue boxes” to bypass phone-switching mechanisms, and some of his college friends claimed that he had called the Pope, pretending to be Henry Kissinger.

Even during his college career, Woz worked with Steve Jobs (Apple’s CEO) to market his blue boxes to classmates. The hacker then dropped out and began working on a mainframe computer, which Jobs helped bring to the public. After a long and successful career, Woz has left Apple and now focuses on philanthropy, providing new technology and computer equipment to the Los Gatos School District in CA.

Kevin Mitnick

You’ll probably recognize this name as a definitive black hat hacker, but he later donned the white hat as a security consultant. Mitnick started his hacking career by manipulating the LA bus punch card system to get free rides, then (like Woz) became interested in blue boxes, finding a way around long-distance phone call payments.

His hacking behaviors escalated and he was eventually convicted for hacking into multiple systems of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) to view Virtual Memory System (VMS) code, costing DEC an alleged $160,000. Mitnick also admitted to stealing software from Motorola, Novell, Fujitsu, Sun Microsystems, and other companies in addition to altering the computer systems of the University of Southern California.

After serving his sentence of five years, this hacker started Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC and is now turning a profit as a white hat.

Jonathan James

This black hat became famous for being the first juvenile hacker to be sentenced to prison, caught at age 15 and prosecuted at 16.

James hacked the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) of the Department of Defense, NASA, BellSouth, and the Miami-Dade school system, stealing confidential information and software valued at nearly two million dollars.

The young hacker insisted that the NASA code he stole was intended to supplement his studies of C programming, but that it was “crappy” and not worth the $1.7 million price tag claimed by NASA. His actions cost the space program $41,000 in damages to its computer systems.

Adrian Lamo

Lamo is a “gray” hat-turned-white hat and currently specializes in threat analysis, journalism, and public speaking. He’s been using his hacking skills to help identify security flaws in the networks of Fortune 500 companies and isolate leak sources that threaten homeland security.

However, prior to this white hat streak, Lamo hacked into Microsoft, The New York Times, and Yahoo! News using Internet connections in public places such as coffee shops and libraries. He consistently found ways to penetrate systems, then informed companies of their vulnerability; however, because he was not hired to do this, it was seen as a threat.

His nearly-black hat career escalated when he began viewing Social Security numbers and giving himself clearance within company systems to access other confidential information. Lamo was ordered to pay $65,000 in restitution to The New York Times and underwent home confinement and probation before donning his white hat.

Kevin Poulsen

Black hat Poulsen’s hacking tended to involve telephone lines, and he used his unusual skills to manipulate radio shows and contests. By taking over all phone lines used by KIIS-FM radio in LA, he took the liberty of “winning” a new Porsche and other prizes. Following this performance, Poulsen hacked into a federal investigation database and viewed wiretap information on “secure” computers.

Other hacking offenses include reactivating old numbers from the Yellow Pages and crashing the phone lines meant to receive information about his whereabouts during an Unsolved Mysteries special.

After being ordered to pay $56,000 in restitution and serve over four years in prison, Poulsen decided that a white hat might look good on him and used MySpace profiles to identify 774 sex offenders. He’s also worked hard to become senior editor of Wired News.

This is a guest post by Alexis Bonari. She is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is a passionate blogger on the topic of education and free college scholarships. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Cross-posted from ShortInfosec

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