The Best Software Hacking Stories of the 21st Century

The Best Software Hacking Stories of the 21st Century

Hacking is an inventive approach to finding solutions. It often consists of unconventional thinking and taking advantage of unexpected facts about one’s environment.

Hacking gained notoriety during the 1980s when a group of teenagers attacked high-profile targets such as Los Alamos National Laboratory, Security Pacific Bank and Sloan Kettering Cancer Center – prompting Congress to pass the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act which legally made hacking a crime.

The 414s

Some hackers search for confidential information to sell, while others simply want to see how far they can push a system. For this group of Wisconsin teenagers – similar to Milwaukee street gangs in their use of street numbers as names for their territory – hacking was simply an adventure in itself.

The 414s employed affordable home computers equipped with analog modems and simple hacking techniques (such as using default or commonly-used passwords and exploiting unpatched security holes) to penetrate systems at Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Security Pacific National Bank. They viewed themselves as explorers; often exploiting these hacked systems for digital gaming purposes.

Utilizing hacks may work temporarily, but they typically are not long-term solutions. Like adding a bald tire to your car: they work, but may cause issues later. A wise software engineer carefully considers all potential hacks before choosing which to utilize.

Jonathan James

Jonathan James was one of the most prolific hackers of his era, regularly bypassing corporate security measures to gain entry to critical systems and steal data. Unfortunately, his hacking activities attracted the notice of law enforcement officials; as a result, they arrested him and sentenced him to an extended term in incarceration for hacking activities.

His purpose was not to gain financial or personal gain but instead show the world just how easy hacking into government systems is. He found a flaw on Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) servers that allowed him to intercept thousands of messages and gain user accounts; as well as 13 devices of International Space Station devices and find source code supporting temperature and humidity control within living spaces.

He was only 16 when arrested, yet acted like an adult and cooperated with investigators. For his efforts he received 6 months of house arrest with restrictions placed upon using his computer for entertainment purposes only – making the teen eligible for only studying related purposes through home computer use.

Adrian Lamo

Although each hacker featured here has different motivations for using hacking techniques to break into computer systems, all are united in their interest in discovering and exploiting software bugs. From making the world better to disproving UFO theories or simply becoming famous – each uses hacking techniques as part of their pursuit.

Adrian Lamo earned the moniker “homeless hacker” due to his lack of an address, becoming well known for hacking websites such as The New York Times and Reed Elsevier’s Lexis-Nexis to alert them of security vulnerabilities – much like how penetration testing is often carried out today. His targets included both publications.

Federal prosecutors charged Lamo with three counts of unauthorized computer access, including intrusions into The New York Times, Reed Elsevier’s LexisNexis database and Excite@Home, Yahoo!, Microsoft MCI WorldCom and SBC Ameritech networks. His crimes, however, largely consisted of performance art as his efforts relied more on breaking passwords or guessing default ones based on people’s first names or social security numbers rather than receiving pay for his services.


Space news enthusiasts know that NASA is continually pushing humanity further into the future through unmanned drone missions or plans for crewed missions to Mars, their successes are expanding our horizons into uncharted waters. Yet many don’t realize that NASA itself presents an attractive target for hackers just like nuclear missile silos or stock markets are.

In 1999, a teenager managed to hack into NASA and the Department of Defense computer systems – showing that even advanced companies may contain vulnerabilities within their security systems. He gained initial access to NASA networks by uncovering hard-coded credentials on GitHub, underscoring the importance of secure coding practices and prioritizing security at organizations of any size. Once AnonSec had gained entry, he started exploring further into NASA’s networks. Their objectives ranged from exposing NASA drone activity and atmospheric aerosol experiments, known as “chemtrails.” (AnonSec) To do this, they purchased Gozi – an advanced hacking tool allowing them to spy on networks – as well as sniffer software to discover more content as they moved through it.


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