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Top 10 Most Spectacular Hacks

From hacking PS3 cell processors into a home supercomputer to taking down the most challenging of government and corporate networks, we look at the most spectacular hacks of the computer age.


7. Microsoft loses Windows 2000 SP1 source code to unknown hackers

In February 2004, the source code of Microsoft’s forthcoming Windows 2000 Service Pack 1 and NT4 was partially leaked via peer-to-peer sharing networks. It was only 15% of the total code, but included networking components. The main concern was that the availability of the uncompiled source would make it easier for hackers to device exploits.

A few days later, an IE5 and Outlook Express exploit emerged, evidently based on vulnerabilities discovered in the code. Fortunately for Microsoft – and for affiliate Mainsoft, from whose server the code was swiped – there were no further publically visible consequences beyond the embarrassment of the loss. No perpetrator was ever identified, despite investigation by the FBI.

6. Gary McKinnon vs. the USA

Scottish sysadmin Gary McKinnon’s penetration of US military and NASA computers might not have been inherently spectacular and certainly didn’t result in any visible consequences, but you’d think otherwise based on the reaction of the US government.


McKinnon claims that he was looking for evidence of UFO cover-ups and that the only changes he made to US defence computers was in adding notes about their poor security. Meanwhile, the US government claims that he deleted critical logs and files, temporarily disabling thousands of computers.

In November 2002, McKinnon was incited in the US for seven counts of computer crime, each of which has a potential sentence of ten years in jail. He’s currently fighting against a US extradition request on medical and human rights grounds.

5. Kevin Mitnick vs the USA

Over a decade earlier, Kevin Mitnick was the USA’s most wanted computer criminal. In the days before anyone even knew (or thought they knew) what a hacker was, 12-year old Kevin Mitnick was making his own punch-card tickets to get free transit throughout the Los Angeles bus system. At 16, he hacked into a computer networking belonging to computer manufacturer DEC and sold their software. After hacking into telecoms provider Pacific Bell’s voicemail systems, a warrant was issued for his arrest and he spent two and half years on the run.

Its claimed that, while evading police, he hacked into numerous authorities to created falsified identity documents, made free cell phone calls and wire-tapped the California Department of Motor Vehicles. He was arrested for none of these, but an impressive record of hacking into systems belonging to Nokia, Sun Microsystems and Motorola was enough to ensure his ultimate conviction.

He was captured in 1995 after a large-scale manhunt and spent four and-a-half years in prison before he even came to trial, where he confessed to wire fraud and computer fraud as part of plea bargain arrangements. After his conviction, he served eight months in solitary confinement – he claims that this was because a judge believed that he might “start a nuclear war by whistling into a pay phone” (whistling data tones was a basic form of analogue phreaking in the 1980s).

Mitnick was released in 2000. Initially banned from using any communications technology more advanced than a landline telephone, but successfully fought against the ruling. In a common move for reformed computer criminals, he now works in the computer security industry and runs Mitnick Security Consulting LLC.

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