Seven Hackers Who Broke the Law
“Yes, I am a criminal. My crime is that of curiosity. My crime is
that of judging people by what they say and think, not what they look
like. My crime is that of outsmarting you, something you will never
forgive me for.”
— The Hacker Manifesto
Hackers, being on the edge of legality, have always been at war with law enforcement. Some hackers have gotten away with their curiosity and seen their stories become folklore. Others have had tough penalties thrown at them, either through slip-ups of their own doing or through being snitched on. Here are seven of the most infamous hackers who were arrested or otherwise punished for their wit.
7. Kevin Mitnick
Kevin Mitnick is the first computer hacker to be regarded as what the general public calls the Scary Hacker Coming to Ruin Your Life. At just 16, Kevin started dumpster diving and social engineering his way into places, his first scam to get free bus rides. His first arrest occurred in 1988 after he accessed a computer network with a phone number a friend gave him. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail and three years on probation. Near the end of his probation, he hacked into the Pacific Bell network forcing him to go underground, using cloned cell phones to hide his location. He was eventually caught in 1995 and sentenced to five years in prison. His jail stint was especially aggressive as the FBI convinced the court he could whistle into a phone and launch a nuclear attack. Of the five years in prison, he spent eight months in solitary confinement. After his release, he became a security consultant and started his own business. He has written many books since then about his time on the run.
6. Kevin Poulsen
At 17, Kevin Poulsen hacked the government’s ARPANET which sent him down the path to become a black hat hacker. In 1988 he cracked a database of government wiretaps on mobsters, the ACLU, and foreign consulates which caught the attention of the FBI. Not wanting to face jail time, Kevin went on the run, using his skills to keep under the radar. While on the run for 17 months, he hacked a radio station contest and won a porsche, and hacked the 1-800 tip line of “Unsolved Mysteries” the night he was featured on the program. He was eventually captured by do-gooder supermarket employees who tackled him to the ground while he was shopping. During the prosecution, the FBI referred to Kevin as “The Hannibal Lecter of Computer Crime” and successfully scared the courts into holding him without bail for 5 years while the Government put their case together. When he was finally charged it was only for money laundering and wire fraud. Upon his release, he was prohibited from touching a computer for three years. Kevin Poulsen switched to journalism after his sentence and is now the editor in chief for Wired Magazine.
5. Ross Ulbricht
Ross Ulbricht aka The Dread Pirate Roberts is the alleged face behind Silk Road – a Tor-hosted marketplace for illicit items. Along with being the first digital drug kingpin, he ordered hits of other administrators and even threatened the Hells Angels. He was arrested in October 2013 and had a much publicized trial. His charges included money laundering, computer hacking and ordering the murdering of 6 people. He is serving life in prison and would probably appreciate a letter.
Ross Ulbricht, #18870-111
MCC, New York Metropolitan Correctional Center
150 Park Row
New York, NY 10007-1780
4. Jonathan James
Jonathan James was the first hacker in the US under the age of 18 to be tried for computer crimes. His crime was accessing computers under the control of the Department of Defense. He was later found to have the source code for the international space station in his possession. He was arrested in September 2000, and put on probation for six months. He violated his probation when a drug test turned up positive and spent six months in jail. Fearing he would be framed for a hack that happened with the computer system of TJ Maxx on January 17, 2007, he committed suicide on May 18, 2008.
“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.”
– from Jonathan’s Suicide Note
3. Chelsea Manning
Chelsea Manning is the person responsible for giving Wikileaks founder Julian Assange their cable leaks which revealed all sorts of state secrets. Chelsea was turned in by a fellow hacker Adrian Lamo (who was arrested earlier for hacking). Chelsea was convicted of espionage by the US government in July 2013, and was given a 35 year sentence. She would appreciate a letter to keep her company.
Chelsea E. Manning 89289
1300 North Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas 66027-2304
2. Aaron Swartz
Aaron made countless contributions to the world of tech, from building RSS 1.0 to working for early versions of Reddit. He started working in online activism, building a platform for the secure submission of documents called SecureDrop. His legal troubles began while he was a fellow at harvard and he began mass downloading JSTOR articles from the MIT campus. JSTOR launched an investigation on Aaron and although they settled out of court, the US government wanted to go further, as they determined there was grounds for bringing charges against him to send a message to other hackers. After 18 months of negotiations and undoubtedly lots of stress, Aaron took his own life on January 11, 2013.
1. Jeremy Hammond
Jeremy Hammond’s contributions to the work of hacking started with the launch the website “HackThisSite” which acted as the training site for the hacker underground. His first hacking-related run-in with the law happened in 2006, when he stole credit card numbers from a conservative website with the plan to make donations to liberal non-profits. He was arrested and served two years in Jail and three years on probation. After the LulzSec hack of Stratfor – a security company focusing on gathering intelligence on activist groups – one of the members of LulzSec and Anonymous, Sabu, revealed all of the identities of the people they were working with, one of them included Jeremy. Jeremy was arrested again and charged with hacking Stratfor on March 5, 2012. He’s currently serving a sentence of 10 years.
Jeremy Hammond #18729–424
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 4000
Manchester, KY 40962