The word “hack” began as a term for an “ingenious solution to a problem.” Then, with the onset of computer programming, it evolved to mean “a feat of programming prowess.” Teenage boys, attracted to the elite power they could wield, immersed themselves in a world of Internet bulletin boards and telephone systems. The lure of the next big challenge, hacker-group rivalries, political activism and personal gain all come into play in this fascinating underground world – in which everything is painted in shades of gray.
10. Chaos Computer Club
The Chaos Computer Club was formed on September 12, 1981 in Berlin. The group gained worldwide notoriety by hacking into the German Bildschirmtext computer network and debiting 134,000 Deutsch Marks from a Hamburg bank. They returned the money the next day, having proven their point: the system’s security was flawed.
Some members of the club were also involved in a cyberespionage case in 1989. They hacked into corporate and government computers in the US and sold the source code to the KGB. The Chaos Computer Club also used hacking to protest French nuclear testing, to publish the fingerprints of Germany’s Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schäuble, and to expose a government Trojan horse spyware device.
9. Global KOS
The goal of Global kOS (pronounced “chaos”) was exactly that: to create as much online disorder as possible on a global scale. Consisting of members with handles like AcidAngel, The Assassin and Shadow Hunter, the group was responsible for providing a slew of automated hacker tools to the online community. This meant that so-called “script-kiddies,” who don’t necessarily have any true computer programming abilities, could wreak havoc without much technical knowhow.
Created in 1996 by AcidAngel, “Up Yours!” was a denial of service tool used to bring down the websites of 40 politicians, including that of Rush Limbaugh, as well as those of MTV and the Ku Klux Klan. Other tools developed by Global kOS include the kOS Crack, for cracking passwords, and BattlePong, an IRC flooding utility.
8. The Level Seven Crew
The Level Seven Crew is believed to have taken its name from the seventh level of hell (“the violent”) in Dante’s famous poetic allegory, “The Inferno.”
In 1999 alone, Level Seven illegally infiltrated over 60 computer systems, including those of NASA, The First American National Bank, and Sheraton Hotels. They also broke into the website of the US Embassy in China and defaced it with racist slogans to protest the United States’ accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. And they were apparently the first group to hack into a .ma (Moroccan) domain. Most of their exploits tended towards “hacktivism,” a form of online activism, rather than being motivated by personal gain. The group disbanded in 2000.
The hacker group globalHell has been compared to a gang of thugs; but instead of battling it out on the streets, they took their fight into cyberspace. The group is said to have attacked and destroyed data on 115 websites, caused millions of dollars in damages, and trafficked stolen information.
Ironically, globalHell was co-founded by a known Houston street gang member named Patrick Gregory, who turned to computers as a “way out” of gang life. However, he ended up transferring his gang-related activity to the web, where he helped coordinate a 60-member syndicate.
Global Hell not only carried out an online version of extortion; they also went as far as attacking and defacing the United States Army’s website, vandalizing it with the message, “globalHell will not die.” Twenty-year-old Wisconsin-based co-founder Chad Davis was arrested in 1999, sentenced to six months in prison, and ordered to pay $8,054. In an amusing twist, he has since gone on to become an independent security consultant.
A 16-year-old hacker who goes by the online name TriCk started TeaMp0isoN in 2010. The group was responsible for hacking into Facebook, NATO, and the English Defense League. They also hacked into an email account and retrieved personal data about former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. And when Research In Motion, the company responsible for developing the BlackBerry smartphone, planned to help police during the 2011 England riots, TeaMp0isoN defaced the official BlackBerry blog, writing, “We are all for the rioters that are engaging in attacks on the police and government.”
The group also hacked the British Anti-terrorism Hotline to protest the extradition of suspects to the US. The group claims to be politically motivated, aiming to expose international governments hiding their wrongdoings.
5. Network Crack Program Hacker Group
The Network Crack Program Hacker Group (NCPH) was formed in 1994, in Zigong, China. In 2006, the group was thought to consist of around 10 members, with four key players at the helm. It’s actually said that the group’s leader, Wicked Rose (real name Tan Dailin), works for the Chinese Army. The current size of the group is unknown.
Initially, NCPH got their kicks hacking into a large proportion of Chinese hacker association websites. Yet their attacks soon evolved. In 2006, Wicked Rose’s GinWui rootkit was employed in attacks on the US Department of Defense. And later that year, Internet security consultancy iDefense linked the group with a number of notable online attacks.
The group is also well known for the remote-network-control and network-infiltration programs they have available for download. What’s more, according Wicked Rose, NCPH is paid for their work by a mysterious sponsor. It is believed that the group’s benefactor is the People’s Liberation Army.
One of LulzSec’s mottos is “Laughing at your security since 2011.” The group enjoys exposing security weaknesses and flaws, and their targets have included Fox.com, an X-Factor database (they released the contact information for 73,000 contestants), Sony, the CIA, and the FBI. They are said to have caused billions of dollars in damages.
In March 2012, top members of LulzSec were arrested, after their leader, code-named Sabu, turned them over to the FBI to face charges of conspiracy. A mere three months later, the group reemerged, hacking into a dating website for singles in the military. They dumped 170,937 email accounts, claiming that Lulzsec had been “reborn.”
3. Masters of Deception
New York hacker group Masters of Deception was formed in 1989, as a bitter rival to Texas-based hackers Legion of Doom. The groups’ one-upmanship soon evolved into all out war, with racial and class overtones adding extra tension.
To prove their hacking prowess, Masters of Deception members allegedly carried out what has been dubbed “one of the most extensive thefts of computer information ever reported.” According to reports, they broke into tough-to-crack servers and stole confidential information, which they later sold. Secret Service members carried out major raids and succeeded in indicting five top hackers in the group. They were charged with “computer tampering, computer and wire fraud, illegal wiretapping, and conspiracy.” All five pleaded guilty.
On June 3, 1998, a group of hacktivists known as Milw0rm targeted the computers of India’s primary nuclear facility, the Bhabha Atomic Research Center. The group operated from the UK, the US, Russia and New Zealand, and they broke through the center’s firewalls. They lifted five megabytes of classified files about India’s last five nuclear tests, erased data from two servers, and posted anti-nuclear messages on the center’s website. The implications of the hack were huge and caused major upheaval as other institutions heightened their security.
One month later, Milw0rm hacked into a web hosting company named EasySpace, and within an hour they had posted their anti-nuclear message on 300 websites, including those of the FIFA World Cup, Drew Barrymore, Wimbledon, and the Saudi Royal Family.
Anonymous is a huge, amorphous group of hackers that has gained considerable momentum over the past couple of years. On January 19, 2012, more than 5,635 people (some unknowingly) joined a distributed denial-of-service attack against supporters of the Stop Online Piracy Act. The sites they disabled included the FBI website, as well as those of the Justice Department, the Motion Picture Association of America, and Universal Music Group.
Other Anonymous activities include protesting UK extradition policies, tracking down cyber-criminals (such as “Internet predator” Chris Forcand), and taking down child porn sites hidden in the depths of the worldwide web. Anonymous has threatened Mexican drug cartel group “Los Zetas,” attacked the Pentagon, threatened to take down Facebook, and waged war on Scientology. The group’s motto is “We are Anonymous. We are Legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.”
Bonus entry: 414s
The notorious 414s group was really nothing more than six youths, aged 16-22, from Milwaukee, WI, whose curiosity lured them into the online world of hacking in the early ‘80s. Seemingly, they didn’t have any malicious intent, claiming that their main motivations were simply the challenge of doing things they weren’t supposed to do, curiosity, and having fun. However, their idea of fun turned out to be hacking into the Los Alamos National Library, Security Pacific Bank, and the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where they caused $1,500 worth of damages by deleting billing records to cover their tracks.
In the end, the only penalty most of the members of 414s faced was being told to pay for the damage they had caused and having to promise to stop hacking. Substantial computer crime bills were passed in the US House of Representatives following the case.