There’s a thin line between genius and villain—even “The Big Bang Theory’s” Sheldon Cooper has been described as a lab experiment away from a super villain. While there’s nobody who’s 100 percent good, sometimes knowing a bit too much about technology can make things too tempting for techies. While not all “great” hackers necessarily had a background in web hosting, they did have a strong background in technology as a whole. Whether they used their powers for good or evil is sometimes up to interpretation.
When it comes to security, it’s only as good as the best hacker. There are some “white hackers” who use their skills to highlight security flaws for companies. There are even contests hosted by such companies in order to make sure their security is the best it can be. However, there are also hackers who have goals of simply causing mayhem of theft.
Check out some of the most impressive hackers in history and what can be learned from them.
- Robert Tappan Morris
Back in 1988, Morris took down 10 percent of the entire internet and was the inspiration for many hacking movies and TV shows. He was young and experts say he was really just looking to fit in. As such, he gossiped about the worm he designed to do it all for weeks before actually taking action—which means police found him quickly. In the end, he ruined $15 million worth of devices and quickly said he regretted his actions.
- Kevin Mitnick
At one time, he was the most wanted cybercriminal in the world. Some call him hacking’s beginnings, and he had a knack for social engineering—or scamming other users. He would hack into telephone systems and it took two years to catch him. When he was finally captured, the entire hacking community protested, calling it a witch hunt.
- Yan Romanowski
His handle was MafiaBoy and he was caught in 2000 after a denial of service strategy that took down some of the largest sites of the time. Fortunately, he never did get to use all of his prowess according to his lawyer. Even though he brought down eBay and Amazon, his attorney says that if he “had used all his powers, he could have done unimaginable damage.” While some hackers call him just a “script kiddie,” he was able to block networks with junk data which is a skill few possess.
- Vladimir Levin
Working out of a small apartment in Russia, Levin managed to transfer $10 million from a number of Citibank customers into accounts he’d set up for himself around the globe. However, it didn’t take long to catch him. There’s still $400,000 unaccounted for, which might just be the buffer he needs to recover after serving his prison time.
- The Steves
Most people know Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as the forefathers of today’s technology, but both were self-proclaimed hackers in their youth. Before 1971, they were all about creating Blue Boxes which are old school phreaking strategies to make long distance calls without the cost. They then sold them to other students at their university.
Power can be used for good or evil, and many hackers go on to enjoy enormous and legal success using their skills. However, there’s no way to tell how young hackers may grow up. Encouraging positive use of such tech know-how is crucial.