Computer hackers are unauthorized users who break into computer systems in order to steal, change or destroy information, often by installing dangerous malware without your knowledge or consent. Their clever tactics and detailed technical knowhow enable them to get access to personal information and classified data in most cases.
Many cases of computer breaches often lead to agonizing legal battles but the most outstanding one according to my knowledge is the case of Kevin Poulsen alias “Dark Dante” who hacked into a federal computer network in 1988 and started digging around in files for the investigation of Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos, who was known for running a corrupt, undemocratic regime and then fled to the US. This wasn’t Kevin’s first hack of the federal system, but as they, his 40th day had just arrived.
Kevin had infiltrated the FBI systems exposing classified information, took over all telephone lines of L.A Radio and eavesdropped on communication, thereby intercepting calls and rewarding himself with prices meant for would be winners of a TV talk show. For 18 months, he managed to stay underground and performed his deeds with FBI hot in his pursuit.
Kevin and his gang were so daring that they even appeared on live talk shows impersonating the real winners in the show. This they did by wiretapping calls meant for winners and subsequently appearing for price collection. From this alone, they managed to falsely acquire Porsche sport cars, holiday vocations and cash prices worth 20,000 dollars. Little did he know that exposing himself on the television will be his major undoing.
Eventually, he was arrested in a mall after being positively identified and taken in for prosecution. During his prosecution, the FBI prevailed upon the courts to continue holding him without bail for five years in a federal prison while they put their case together.
When they finalized piecing together all the evidences, everybody thought that Kevin was starring at a long jail term ahead, however the FBI could only manage lesser charges of money laundering and wire fraud, dropping some of the serious hacking charges which were initially listed. He was sentenced to “time served” and released, but was barred from touching a computer for three years.
Kevin Poulsen reformed and became a respected journalist after his encounter with the federal authorities. He is a now a renowned writer on computer security and occasionally contributes in Wire Magazine. His transformation from a black hat to a white hat hacker enabled him to help the same federal authorities to arrest pedophile offenders on MySpace who were trolling on underage girls.
Kevin Poulsen also helped in designing and developing SecureDrop, an open source application that enabled secure end to end communication between journalists and sources. He donated the platform to Freedom of the Press Foundation which he later joined.
The most intriguing aspect of Paulsen’s story is how he reformed and started creating computer security awareness among vulnerable users. It may be prudent for any government throughout the world to reform these hackers for better cause.