If the popular modern myth is to be believed, computer hackers are some of the most dangerous people in the world. Using a series of skills known only by an elite (and geeky) few, hackers can steal money, personal information and entire identities. They remain - for the most part - anonymous, hidden safely behind a computer screen.
Beside their advanced knowledge of technology, the greatest strength of a hacker is their anonymity. The internet allows hackers to work from anywhere in the world. As long as there is a computer (or computer-like device), an ethernet port or wifi connection, there's very little a hacker can’t do if they have patience and ingenuity.
Hackers aren't necessarily master thieves working for international criminals, using the latest in cutting-edge equipment. According to Geek.com, a 12-year old Canadian — who cannot not be named under Canada’s Young Offenders Act — was charged as a hacker in 2013. Among his exploits were attacks on “DDos systems, copypasta website vandalism, and exploiting security holes on sites to access databases — and later post[ing] stolen information online.” Another hacker in this list is only three years older than him, and this boy did a lot more financial damage. Are these young hackers criminal master minds?
To be sure, nothing is completely safe in the modern world where technology is king. Bank accounts, ATMs, online databases, and advanced security systems from top institutions can all be breached by both young and old hackers. If it doesn't already cost millions of dollars to repair damage or upgrade security systems, it could cost both the individual and the organization in stolen money that is often never returned. Although computer crime is still incredibly risky, it’s no surprise that hackers continue to take anything they can get: Unlike traditional crime, there is little to no face-to-face interaction in computer hacking. From a psychological perspective, it could be argued that it's easier for criminals to compromise their moral compass when the people or institutions they steal from exist solely as an abstract idea.
Is it really all that easy for hackers to steal millions? In most cases, no. Hacking requires a specialized set of skills and knowledge that's not beholden to the average person. It can take days or weeks to breach a heavily-encrypted security system or build an adequate virus that can swiftly and secretly collect financial information. Still, the hackers in the following list were successful in pulling off just such lucrative heists. The only problem was, of course, that they were all caught.
6 Darius Bolder - $1 Million USD
Hackers don’t need a fully-functional computer to steal personal financial data. For Darius Bolder and his accomplices, all they really needed was a little black box and a 3G internet router…Well, not exactly. They also needed a man with nerves of steel to con his way into the Swiss Cottage Branch of Barclays Bank by posing as an IT technician. Bolder took a KVM device (the little black box) and hooked it to a computer in the back office. Connected to the router, his accomplices were able to steal more than $1 million from a nearby hotel by recording 128 financial transactions. Luckily for Barclays Bank, there were able to recover nearly $600,000 of it.
5 “The Boy Wonder” - $2 Million USD
In September 2013, a 15-year old boy daringly hacked into NASA’s computer systems which control and regulate the international space station. He also broke into the Pentagon’s weapons computer system and intercepted more than 3000 emails and highly-secure passwords. Because he’s a juvenile, the boy cannot be named. But even as a boy, he managed to crack some of the most advanced security systems in the world. Among the theft was $2 million dollars worth of NASA’s custom computer software. NASA had to shut down their system for 21 days at a cost of $41,000. The 15-year old boy is now serving 6 months in a juvenile detention centre.
4 “The ATM Hackers” - $45 Million USD
In this case, the criminals mixed hacking with hands-on robbery, when an international group of hackers stole $45 million in cash from ATMs in a matter of only minutes. This was the scheme: The hackers penetrated a prepaid credit card database and stole all of the information. Using fake magnetic swipe cards — like the ones used to unlock hotel rooms —that were loaded with the information stolen from the prepaid cards, the hackers simply went up to various ATM in cities around the world and withdrew the funds. The gang worked on an international scale with cells in the U.S., Japan, Russia and Britain. Fortunately, no money was actually stolen from individuals. Since the funds were allocated from prepaid credit cards, it was only the banks and credit card companies who lost the money — most or all of which were insured in such eventualities. After investigations, arrests began in March 2013.
3 Evgeniy Bogachev - $100 Million USD
In June 2014, more than $100 million was skillfully stolen as hackers from all over of the world accessed thousands of computer systems. Unlike the case of the ATM hackers, much of the money was taken from individual consumers, in addition to financial institutions. The massive theft, masterminded by a Russian hacker involved with a large group, was conducted using a computer virus that swept the internet and collected personal financial information, syphoning funds from individuals' bank accounts. Evgeniy Bogachev, the ring leader behind the theft, was called by the FBI “one of the most prolific cyber criminals in the world.” Although he has not been arrested, American authorities are negotiating with the Russian government to have him extradited and prosecuted.
2 Edward Pearson - $112 Million USD
Edward Pearson, only 23-years old, developed several sophisticated computer programs called Zeus, SpyEye and Python. The programs scanned the internet for personal financial information such as credit card numbers and names. Among the internet companies affected was Paypal, one of the world’s most popular payment processing and storage services on the internet. From there, Pearson extracted the details of more than 200,000 accounts. Even though Pearson's lawyer argued in court that Pearson’s hacking activity was driven by the desire for an intellectual challenge rather than for financial gain, both Pearson and his girlfriend were first caught at a luxury hotel while attempting to pay the bill with stolen credit card numbers and Paypal accounts. To illustrate how much information Pearson actually stole, police said that if everything were printed out on paper, the details would fill over 64,000 sheets.
1 Vladimir Drinkman, Aleksander Kalinin, Roman Kotov, Dmitriy Smilianets, Mikhail Rytikov - $300 Million USD
Russian hackers strike again. Through their international hacker organization, this group stole more than 160 million credit and debit card numbers. In one of the thefts, a company that processes credit and debit card payments for hundreds of business lost an astonishing $200 million. Among the businesses were 7-Eleven Inc., Dow Jones, J.C. Penny Co. and Visa Inc. The second-biggest loss was $93 million from Global Payment Systems. Drinkman was held in U.S. custody and Kalinin in the Netherlands, while the other three remaining criminals responsible are still at large.