10 Most Insane Hacking Stories—Ever!

Hacking is an increasing concern in the 21st century which can lead to grave consequences if the sensitive information falls in the wrong hands. This “unauthorized intrusion” into computer networks has given many people sleepless nights causing a massive monetary and physical damage.

Hackers are broadly classified into three kinds—white hats, grey hats, and black hats—depending upon their reason behind the hacking. Some have gone ahead and added blue hats, red hats, and green hats to the categories of hackers based on their beliefs and behaviors. China accounts for the world’s highest number of hackers which at the end of 2012 accounted for 41% of the global hacking traffic.

Here are some of the most insane hacking stories ever from around the world where hackers have done unbelievable things!

1. Using his knowledge of telephone systems, Kevin Poulsen, alias “Dark Dante,” hacked the phone lines of a radio station to become the winning caller for a brand new Porsche. He was called the “Hannibal Lecter” of computer crime by the media.

Kevin Poulsen
Image credit: Klpoulsen via Wikimedia

A former “black-hat” hacker (a term that evolved from the use of black hats to depict cowboy villains and white to depict the heroic ones), Kevin Poulsen is infamous for the hacking stunt that he did on June 1, 1960. Now a 52-year-old journalist, Poulson hacked into the telephone lines of Los Angeles radio station KIIS-FM to make sure that he was the 102nd caller to the win the prize of a Porsche 944 S2.

When the Federal Bureau of Investigation learned about his trick, they pursued him and he went underground. He was later found, arrested, and went to prison for five years. He was the first American ever to be released from prison with a ban on the use of a computer for three years. When he was featured on NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries, the phone lines of the show mysteriously crashed.

Poulsen now works as a contributing editor with The Daily Beast and has distanced himself from his past as a hacker. Recently, he has done several investigative reports for social good. (1, 2)

2. The first person to unlock a first generation iPhone, George Hotz, also known as “Geohot,” was only 17 then. He traded a second, unlocked iPhone for a Nissan and three locked iPhones.

George Hotz
Image credit: Comma.ai

In August 2007, 17-year-old George Hotz unlocked an iPhone becoming the first known person to do so. Unlocked iPhones were of high value as then they could be used with any of the carriers which was not what Apple or AT&T wanted. When he unlocked his second iPhone, he traded it for a Nissan 350z and three 8 GB iPhones with Certicell founder Terry Daidone. His was a hardware-based unlocking method which was the rage until an anonymous group discovered a software-based one.

In December 2009, Hotz had successfully breached security on Sony’s PlayStation 3. On July 13, 2010, Hotz declared that due to unwanted personal attention and because he was demotivated with technology, he was discontinuing his hacking activities. But on January 2, 2011, he posted a copy of the root keys of Sony’s PlayStation 3 following which Sony sued him. The lawsuit was settled out of court as Hotz “promised” not to meddle with any other Sony device in the future. What was last known about him was he was working with an American vehicle automation machine learning company named “comma.ai.” (source)

3. A 15-year-old hacker, Jonathan James’, actions made NASA shut down its network for three entire weeks to investigate the breach. He had hacked into NASA’s network to download source code equaling the value of 1.7 million dollars to learn how the Internation Space Station worked.

Jonathan James
Image credit: James family via

Jonathan Joseph James, a hacker, was only 15 when he hacked into the systems of NASA and the United States Department of Defense (DOD) along with some private companies and schools in June 1999. A native of Miami who operated under the nickname of “Comrade,” stole data worth 1.7 million dollars from 13 computers at NASA. NASA had to shut down its network for 21 days to investigate the breach that cost them an additional 41,000 dollars.

The source code that James stole controlled important elements for survival aboard the International Space Station including the controlling of temperature and humidity. NASA had to rewrite that part of the source code. He also became the first person in the world to crack into the network of DOD’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency which is a division responsible for analyzing possible threats to the United States. He intercepted 3,000 messages that gave him access to usernames and passwords of several employees that also gave him access to ten military computers.

When he was arrested, computer crimes were not fully codified, and since he was a juvenile, he was charged with two counts of “juvenile delinquency.” He was placed under a six-month home arrest and asked to write apology letters to NASA and DOD. If he had committed the crime three years later, he would have been imprisoned for at least ten years and would have had to pay a fine of thousands of dollars. (source)

4. Caught with over a 100 cell phone clone codes and several cloned cell phones, hacker Kevin Mitnick was kept in solitary confinement for eight months because law enforcement officers told a judge that he could “start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone.”

Kevin Mitnick
Image credit: Campus Party México/Flickr, jmiller291/flickr

Kevin David Mitnick was a controversial hacker who was arrested in 1995 and sentenced to five years in prison for computer and communications-related crimes. His trial, arrest, and pursuit were all such high-profile that they created a lot of media buzz. He gained unauthorized access for the first time into a computer at the age of 16 in 1979 after a friend gave him the phone number for Ark, the computer system used by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). He was arrested for this in 1988 for 12 months followed by three years in a supervised release, but Mitnick hacked into another computer system before the supervised release ended and went into hiding.

He used cloned cell phones to hide his real location and stole valuable software from the United States’ largest cell phone companies. He also read private e-mails of many people. When arrested, he was found with more than 100 cell phone clone codes and several cloned cell phones along with false identification documents. Out of the five odd years he served in prison, for four and a half years, he was on trial, and for the rest of his sentence of eight months, he was kept in solitary confinement. This was because a few law enforcement officers told a judge that he could whistle into a pay phone and start a nuclear war. This meant that Mitnick somehow knew how to dial into a NORAD modem via pay phone and communicate with it through whistling, to launch nuclear missiles.

He now runs a security firm called Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC and is co-owner of KnowBe4, a provider for a platform for simulated phishing testing and security awareness training. (source)

5. “Your security system is crap. I am Solo. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels,” was a message hacker Gary McKinnon left on 97 American military and NASA servers after he managed to delete sensitive data and software on them. The U.S. government had to spend over 700,000 dollars to recover it.

Gary McKinnon
Image credit: Wilsha via Wikipedia

One of the most notorious hackers in history, Gary McKinnon was the brain behind the “biggest military computer hacks of all time.” He said that he hacked into 97 American military and NASA servers to find evidence for UFO cover-ups and energy suppression that were potentially useful to the public. He hacked into these systems over a 13-month period from his girlfriend’s aunt’s house in London under the name of “Solo.”

The critical files he deleted from the computers made the United States Army’s Military District of Washington’s network of 2,000 computers shut down for 24 hours. He was charged with seven counts of computer-related crimes that each came with a ten-year sentence, but he was not extradited to the United States. Instead, he served a three-year sentence in the United Kingdom. Controversies happened when he protested his extradition to the United States with British MPs coming to his rescue. He expressed concerns that he would be sent to Guantanamo Bay and he wanted to remain in the United Kingdom. Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour released an online single in his support entitled Chicago – Change The World. (source)

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