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)

6. “Xbox Underground,” an international hacker group, boasted of having broken into every game company’s network. They repeatedly broke into Microsoft’s network and stole credentials to walk into its headquarters at Redmond. They took three Xbox One development kits with them which were unreleased then.

Xbox Underground
Image credit: pixabay

“Xbox Underground” broke into Microsoft’s computer network and spent hundreds of hours copying log-in credentials, source code, and other data between 2011 and 2013. Using these credentials, they carried out theft of the development kits of the unreleased Xbox One consoles from Microsoft’s Redmond headquarters driven by curiosity. The hacker group also breached the network of Zombie Studios and gained access to the simulator software for the United States military’s Apache helicopters.

David Pokora, an infamous hacker who was in the ranks of this group, while pleading guilty said, “Have you been listening to the (expletive) that I’ve done this past month? I have [expletive] to the U.S. military. I have (expletive) to the Australian Department of Defense… I have (expletive) every single big company—Intel, AMD, Nvidia—and any game company you could name—Google, Microsoft, Disney, Warner Brothers, everything.” He was the first foreign hacker who was tried in the United States. Three others from the hackers’ group pleaded guilty to the charges leveled against them, while one helped the FBI track the group down. (source)

7. Higinio Ochoa, a hacker who went by the code name “w0rmer,” had a modus operandi of leaving behind the image of a woman in a bikini with a message as his trademark. When he hacked into an FBI criminal database, the image he left behind had GPS coordinates that led them to him.

Higinio Ochoa
Image credit: Twitter via

Higinio Ochoa got into hacking as a child, but when the “Occupy Wall Street” movement began in 2011, his agenda turned political. He hacked into police departments’ websites to reveal the names of the police officers who used tear gas and sticks on protesters while covering the badges on their uniforms. He joined a hacking group called “Cabin Cr3w” and also got associated with Anonymous. 

One day, he hacked into the FBI’s criminal database that was linked to another website of the Alabama Department of Public Safety to which he had gained access. He left behind his trademark image of a woman in bikini with the words, “PwNd by w0rmer & CabinCr3w – <3 u B*Tch’s.” This image that was taken by his fiancée on her iPhone with the location services turned on. The FBI traced the coordinates to the exact location, discovered her identity, and later on arrested Ochoa. After spending 18 months in prison and when he was going out on parole in 2015, his parole terms had been modified and he was told that he could not use the Internet and not even touch a device that was connected to the Internet.

He works as a computer programmer, nevertheless, and sends programming codes to his boss via snail mail. If he wants to watch Netflix, his wife, Kylie, has to put the service on auto-play so he does not press play, abiding the terms of his parole. (source)

8. Only using photographs of the German Defense Minister, a hacker Jan Krissler was able to recreate his fingerprint. The same person, within 24 hours of the release of iPhone 5S, defeated Apple’s thumbprint verification.

Jan Krissler
Image credit: Jan Krissler via

“Starbug” whose real name is Jan Krissler, used a commercial software called VeriFinger and several photographs of the German Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, to recreate her fingerprint. One of these photos was taken by him from three meters away so that he could reverse-engineer the fingerprint.

In yet another stunt that he did in 2013, he created a dummy finger from a smudge on the screen of the newly released iPhone 5S and defeated Apple’s TouchID sensors. He created the dummy finger using wood glue and sprayable graphene and unlocked a phone registered to someone else’s fingerprint. In a demonstration, sometime after that, he said that he could spoof the sensors even without having access to a “smudge on the screen.” Krissler told a publication that he considers using passwords safer than using fingerprints. (source)

9. By exploiting a minor glitch in a video poker machine, John Kane and another gambler won a half a million dollars. When they were sued for hacking, their lawyer argued, “All these guys did is simply push a sequence of buttons that they were legally entitled to push.” They won the case.

John Kane
Image credit: Clark County Detention Center via, Dennis Yang/Flickr

Two gamblers, John Kane and Andre Nestor, exploited a bug in IGT’s Game King machine in the casinos of Las Vegas that enabled them to win a half a million dollars. Kane had found out about a firmware bug that let him play a prior winning hand again at ten times the original value in the video poker machine. He was arrested at the Silverton Casino Lodge in July 2009 after the casino noticed suspicious play. His friend, Andra Nestor, was arrested in Pennsylvania.

When they were charged with computer and wire fraud in January 2011, the federal prosecutors alleged that they had to activate the bug through a complex system of pressing buttons which made it a form of hacking. But the defense argued that both the men pressed the buttons they were legally allowed to press and were playing by the rules, terming it a “lucky streak.” They won the case. (source)

10. Orchestrating the first computer attack to cause physical harm to the victims, users of 7chan.org hacked into the website of the Epilepsy Foundation of America in 2008 replacing the support forum with flashing images and animations to trigger migraine headaches and seizures in people.

7chan hacker
Image credit: Pixabay

A message board thread on 7chan.org, which was later deleted, had posts about planning a hacking attack on the website of the Epilepsy Foundation of America that began on March 22, 2008. The attack, which was done using JavaScript code and flashing hundreds of computer animations, was aimed to trigger pattern-sensitive and photo-sensitive seizures and migraine headaches in some people who attempted to access the support forum on the website.

Following the attack, the Epilepsy foundation had to shut down their website for a day and strengthen their security. This was the first computer attack that was intended to inflict physical harm on people. Circumstantial evidence suggested that Anonymous, a hacker’s collective, was behind the attack. (source)

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