Hackers make History and Hollywood

28 June, 2013 | Della Wyler | Hacking, IT Security, Technology
Jurassic park hacker 300x1951

“Uh-uh. You didn’t say the magic word!” The skill of hacking has definitely made a place for itself in Hollywood. You may recall Lex’s hacking skills got Jurassic Park back on track after dinosaurs wreaked havoc on a secluded island. Then there was Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) who stole $9.5 billion from a secret government slush fund, codenamed Swordfish, for a high tech robber villain. And you can’t talk about hacking and not mention the Matrix trilogy (1999), Tron (1982), or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009).  Even President Obama made a recent comment that the manhunt for 29 year old hacker, Edward Snowden will make for a good movie someday. The Best Hacking movies, are exciting, and although they can seem like a bit of a stretch from reality, there is some truth behind these plots.Code 2600 is a documentary film worth watching because it is both accurate and entertaining, and will open your eyes to the truth about hacking.


The terms hacker and hacking typically carry a negative connotation and as they are commonly associated with the skill of unlawfully breaking into computer systems. But not all hackers are bad. In fact, hackers have the ability to diagnose security flaws. Crackers, on the other hand, use their hacking skills for malicious gain, stealing private information and sometimes large amounts of money. Crackers are hackers who have gone to the dark side. The White Hat versus the Black Hat….the good versus the evil.

The Infamous Crackers aka the Black Hat Bad Guys

Since the development of computer technology there have been a number of notorious hackers that have created real-life dramas, off the big screen, and no doubt have provided inspiration for big Hollywood directors. Here is a list of the some of the most infamous real life black haters that give hackers a bad rep. Some of them are now respectable White Hat hackers!

  • Kevin Mitnick – Kevin Mitnick started out just wanting a free ride on the bus, starting his hacking career at the age of 12. Mitnick went on to become the most wanted computer hackers in the country, known primarily for his hack into Digital Equipment Corporation’s network to steal their software. It may have been his first notable break-in, but Mitnick went on to other big targets, including cell phone giants Nokia and Motorola. After hacking into fellow hacker Tsutomu Shimomura’s computer, Mitnick was tracked down by Shimomura and the FBI in 1995.Today, Mitnick has served a five-year sentence and come clean, but he continues to profit off his former title, authoring books and working as a security consultant. The movie Takedown (2000) is based on Kevin’s capture.
  • Kevin Poulsen (aka Dark Dante) – Today, Kevin Poulsen is an editor at tech-savvy Wired magazine, but back in the 1980s, he phone-phreaking hack. Poulsen rigged s Los Angeles radio station phone line to allow only him to get through and win a trip to Hawaii and a Porsche. Dark Dante’s more serious targets included his break-in to the FBI’s database which led to his 1991 arrest and five years prison time. Since then, he’s gone respectable using his power for good by racking sex offenders on MySpace.
  • Gary McKinnon – Conspiracy-theorist McKinnon broke into computers at the U.S. Department of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force and NASA sometime in 2001 and 2002. McKinnon believed the U.S. government was hiding alien technology that could solve the global energy crisis. The U.S. government claims McKinnon’s hack job cost them significant amounts of money to fix.
  • Robert Tappan Morris – Back in 1988, while a graduate student at Cornell University, Morris created the first worm and released it on the Internet. He claimed it was all an experiment gone awry, a test to see how big the then-new Internet was. The worm turned out to be more than a test: it replicated quickly, slowing computers to the point of non-functionality and virtually crippling the Internet. He was eventually fined and sentenced to three years probation. Since then, he’s earned his Ph.D. from Harvard and made millions designing software. Today, he’s a computer science professor at MIT.
  • Jonathan James – Infamous by the age of 16, this kid was charged for hacking into NASA and the Department of Defense computer systems, stealing information and causing serious downtime while the security breaches has to be addressed. This would cost tens of thousands of dollars. He basically informed NASA and DOD that their systems had weaknesses, which was the defense his father was using. The judge didn’t buy it, and he was sentenced as a juvenile, and received 6 months in juvenile institution. Trouble seemed to follow him, as he was later associated with the TJX scandal (listed below). He committed suicide after his suspected involvement in this case.
  • Albert “segvec” Gonzalez – This is the guy that was responsible for the TJX hacking scandal of 2009, in which a group of hackers stole 36 million credit card numbers.  He was an informant to the secret service providing information on other credit cards thieves! TJX spent over $170 million responding to the attack, and Albert was sentenced to 20 years in prison, which is the longest sentence handed down to a convicted hacker in the US.
  • 23 (1998) – The movie’s plot is based on the true story of a group of young computer hackers from Hannover, Germany. In the late 1980s the orphaned Karl Koch invests his heritage in a flat and a home computer. At first he dials up to bulletin boards to discuss conspiracy theories inspired by his favorite novel, R.A. Wilson’s “Illuminatus”, but soon he and his friend David start breaking into government and military computers. Pepe, one of Karl’s rather criminal acquaintances senses that there is money in computer cracking.

The Famous Hackers aka the White Hat Good Guys

When you take a look at the computer technology and hacker movies, you will notice that the majority of hackers are in fact, good guys. These are the guys that give hackers a good name. Although they may have gotten into a little trouble here and there, by forgetting about the ethics of hacking, White Hat hackers have really contributed to improvements in technology security.  Hackers, can build a career around their skill and become IT Security Professionals through certification. These IT security gurus are important members of successful organizations, and are in high demand these days as security crime and threat is on the rise. Here are a few White Hat hackers whose discoveries changed the world of technology as we know it.

  • Bill Gates – At 14 years old, he dialed into a nationwide computer network, uploaded a virus he had created causing the entire network to crash. That boy was Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.
  • Steve Wozniak – He and Steve Jobs got their start building blue boxes, a device that could bypass traditional telephone switch mechanisms in order to make free long-distance calls. Wozniak and Jobs built these boxes together and ended up selling them to their college classmates. From there, they progressed to bigger and better ideas so users could make free long distance calls. The money helped start up Apple computers and now, we have iPhones as a result. The movie, Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999), is based on the young founders of Apple. Also Stan Jobson (Hugh Jackman’s character in Swordfish) is named after Steve Jobs. He’s modeled after the cool computer geniuses of William Gibson’s cyberpunk novels.
  • Joanna Rutkowska – This Polish researcher has made it an obsession to figure out how stealth malware, such as rootkits, can be so well hidden in software and hardware that few are ever likely to find it. Her “Blue Pill” attack against Microsoft’s Vista kernel protection mechanism, which brought a crowded room of security geeks at Black Hat to a standing ovation in 2006, was just her first revelation publicly to show how easy it is for dangerous code to hide in plain sight.
  • Mark Maiffret – Once the bad boy ‘Chameleon’ in hacking group “‘Rhino9,” Maiffret luckily realized his hacking skills could be put to use in protecting Windows-based computers when, at age 17, he turned over a new leaf to co-found eEye Digital Security in 1997. Maiffret also played a role in zeroing in on the infamous “Code Red” worm in 2001, which exploded across the Internet ravaging Microsoft-based computers.
  • Zane Lackey – This co-author of “Hacking Exposed: Web 2.0″ and contributing editor to “Hacking VoIP” and “Mobile Application Security” digs into flaws in mobile and VoIP systems. In the past, some of his public talks and demos about compromising VoIP systems have been so detailed that chief information security officers at major corporations said they couldn’t advocate investing in VoIP until the issues raised were addressed by vendors.
  • Tim Berners-Lee – Tim is credited as the brilliant mind behind the creation of the World Wide Web–not to be confused as the creator of the Internet, which he isn’t. He is the creator of the actual system that we all use to navigate the Internet in order to access particular files, folders, and websites. He got his start with electronics at a relatively young age. When he was a student at Oxford University, Berners-Lee managed to build a computer from scratch using a soldering iron, TTL gates, an M6800 processor, and parts from an old television.

Hacking –  Career vs. Jail Time


Hacking not only makes exciting crime dramas, but can also earn someone a good honest living, or it can earn someone some jail time, depending on the route taken. White hacking can help prevent the black hacking so hacking is an important topic to understand, learn, and get certified, if you want to pursue a career in hacking or IT security. To learn more about how to become a White Hat hacker, visit our IT Security Certification & Course pages for classes near you. Who knows…maybe your skills will go down in history and make the big screen one day!

Which one of these people/stories would make the best Hollywood film? Do you think Edward Snowden will make it to the big screen? What is your favorite hacker movie?