There is a thin line that divides cyber-pranksters from cyber-criminals; youngsters motivated by the idea of playing a prank have been behind many cyber crimes. There are also those cyber criminals who commit criminal acts to make money or they do so for political and ideological reasons. Here is a look at a few famous names from the annals of cyber crime:
Mark Abene (1972 -): Born in New York, Mark had his first contact with computers at the age of 9; from then onwards he was hooked to them. In a few years, he mastered popular programming languages. In the mid-1980s, he came in contact with a group of teenaged hackers going by the name of Legion of Doom. From them he perfected his hacking techniques. When the group disintegrated due to internal dissension, Mark Abene switched his loyalties to another group of local hackers, the Masters of Deception. He had some interest in telecommunications, and when the AT&T’s network crashed on 15 January 1990, the US authorities held him and other members of Masters of Deception responsible. On 24 January 1990, Abene’s house was searched and in December 1991, he was formally arrested. When he was released in November 1994, he had a hero’s welcome from large number of people who were interested in technology. Today he works as an independent consultant, advising corporations on matters related to cyber security.
Adrian Lamo (1981 -): Adrian Lamo made news lately because of his tussle with the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Intelligence officer Bradley Manning had contacted Adrian Lamo over IM to brag that he was responsible for leaking thousands of documents to WikiLeaks. Lamo tipped off the FBI with this information. That was enough for many in the hacker community to bombard Lamo with death threats for cooperating with the authorities. Born in Boston, Lamo spent his early childhood in Arlington, Virginia, before moving to Bogotá, Colombia, at the age of 10. Two years later when he came back to the US, he became obsessed with computers and software. He was barely out of his teens when he started performing authorised or unauthorised vulnerability assessment for several large and small business entities. However, most of his work was done for free. In February 2002 after breaking into The New York Times computer network, he added his name to the internal database of expert sources, and began using the paper’s LexisNexis account to conduct research on high-profile subjects. The newspaper filed a complaint and warrant for Lamo’s arrest was issued in August 2003. Later on he was convicted of compromising the security of The New York Times and Microsoft, Yahoo! and MCI WorldCom.
Jeanson James Ancheta (1985 – ): Jeanson James Ancheta is the first person in the world to be convicted of controlling large numbers of hijacked computers or botnets. At one point of time he used to control more than half a million computers, which allowed him to orchestrate large-scale attacks. For this crime, he had to spend five years in jail. He was accused of making profit of more than $70,000 by installing adware on his hijacked computers or botnets. Born in the US, Ancheta attended the Downey High School in California until 2001, when he dropped out of school. After that he is known to have spent some time with the alternative program for students with academic or behavioural problems. He also worked at an Internet cafe and it was from June 2004 that he started his work with botnets.
Chad Davis (1981 – ): The founding member of the globalHell syndicate of hackers, Chad Davis used to operate under the pseudonym, Mindphasr. He is suspected to have played a lead role in the hacking of websites of numerous businesses and government agencies. Two weeks after he vandalised the website of the White House in June 1999, the authorities searched his apartment. As Davis was underage at that time, he could not be arrested; the cops only fined him $165 for a can of beer that was found in his refrigerator. Within days of the search, Chad Davis retaliated by hacking the home page of the US Army, where he posted the message, “globalHell will not die.” This time Chad was taken into custody. In 2001 he pleaded guilty to the crime of hacking and was sentenced to six months in prison. The judge sentenced him also to six months of probation, during which period he was ordered to stay away from computers.
Kevin Mitnick (1963 – ): At one point of time in his career, Kevin Mitnick was the most wanted cyber criminal in America. He began his career in crime at the age of 12, when he cracked the punch-card system used in Los Angles bus system to gain free rides in any bus in the greater LA area. In 1979, at the age of 16, he gained unauthorised access to the computer system of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), from where he copied some crucial software. For this crime, he was convicted and sentenced to 12 months in prison and 3 years of probation. After his release, he hacked into the systems of some schools in LA and into the one that was owned by Pacific Bell. When a warrant for his arrest was issued, he fled and became a fugitive for almost 21/2 years. During his days as a fugitive, he gained further notoriety by gaining unauthorised access into many other computer systems. When he was apprehended in February 1995, many mobile phones, which he had cloned, were found with him. He was also found in possession of multiple false identities. In 1999, he was convicted and sentenced to four years of prison. These days he runs a cyber security company.