First juvenile hacker to use simple knowledge to crack computer codes

Hacker, Jonathan James

   While many people are familiar with the phrase “Curiosity killed the cat”, others can relate it to themselves. At the age of 15, an American teenager by the name of Jonathan James used his knowledge about the UNIX operating system and C programming language to hack into the Defence Treat Reduction Agency and NASA computer systems. Although James did no harm to the computer systems, he was caught at age 16, and was sent to jail for six months probation.

   James had been learning about the UNIX operating system and its C programming language for two years. Claiming he knew “Unix and C like the back of [his] hand”, he was easily trilled at how easy it was to pass the government’s careless security on most of their computers. UNIX is known as a synonym for opening systems (operating systems) that’s widely used in servers and other environments. It was the very client-server program that was in association with the development of the Internet. C is the programming language made for usage with UNIX.

   He had committed his first cyber offence by installing a backdoor into the Defence Threat Reduction Agency server (an agency within the United States Department of Defence) which let him look at sensitive emails and employee user names and passwords. His second offence had to do with being able to steal software from NASA’s computers that was worth approximately $1.7 million. NASA had lost a significant amount of money because of the worries of the stolen computer software. In an anonymous PBS interview, James had assured that “The code itself was crappy ... certainly not worth $1.7 million like they claimed. The only reason I was downloading the source code in the first place was because I was studying C programming. And what better way to learn than reading software written by the government?”

Defence Threat Reduction Agency Logo       NASA Logo

   He was even considerate about the security of some computers and wrote emails to the system administrators letting them know that their computers were vulnerable. He told the interviewer, “I would tell them how to break in, and how to fix the problems. I’d give them advice, and they would never follow it. Three weeks later I would go in and I still had access to their computers.” This shows that he had some concern in how easy it was to hack these computers.

   In the end, Jonathan James was caught at the age of 16 on January 26th, 2000, and was sentenced to serve six-months under house arrest and probation, and then another six months in jail for violation of parole. After his sentence was over, he assured everyone that he learned his lesson and that he might even start a computer security company. Unfortunately, he was found dead on May 18th, 2008, by a self-inflicted gunshot wound due to stress from another hacking-situation.


To see the full anonymous PBS interview, click this!



Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict Valid CSS!