5 Of The World’s Most Famous And Most Influential White Hat Hackers

Famous White Hat Hackers Intro   5 Of The World’s Most Famous And Most Influential White Hat HackersHackers weren’t always known for being social misfits and Internet ninjas. In fact, the word “hacker” was originally a positive term, indicating someone who had an extensive knowledge of computers and computer networks. It wasn’t until Hollywood got their hands on the word that it became synonymous with “criminal computer expert.”

In this article, I’m going to jump back to the original definition and explore the world of “good hackers,” otherwise known as “white hat hackers.” If you’re looking to learn more about hackers of the evil and malicious variety, you may want to check out my previous article about world famous black hat hackers.

Let’s take a look at five of the most influential computer experts that have helped shape the world to be what it is today. You may not know these people by name, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of their work.

Steve Wozniak

white hat hacker steve wozniak   5 Of The World’s Most Famous And Most Influential White Hat HackersHave you ever heard of Steve Jobs? Of course you have! Well, Steve “Woz” Wozniak is known for being the “other Steve” of Apple Computers. Along with Jobs, Wozniak co-founded the company and paved the way towards what would later become a massive international success.

Before Apple existed, Wozniak began his computer career by creating something called 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.

After dropping out of college, Wozniak invented a computer that could be sold as a fully assembled PC board. The rest is, as they say, history. Wozniak was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in September 2000.

Linus Torvalds

white hat hacker linus torvalds   5 Of The World’s Most Famous And Most Influential White Hat HackersLinus Torvalds is the creator of Linux, a family of operating systems that brought the flexibility and security of Unix-based systems to the public in an easy-to-digest manner. Linux has been growing in popularity over the past decade and it is poised as a very real alternative to Windows and Mac.

Torvalds started his hacking by fiddling around with his personal machines when he was a child. In 1991, he created the first version of the Linux kernel using the Minix operating system as his source of inspiration. Eventually, he asked for contributors to help him out. Fast forward many years later and now Linux is popular worldwide.

Though he wasn’t the first proponent of open-source software, the spread of Linux surely helped the growth of the open-source community. Without him, there would be no operating system that works as a strong replacement for the two main contenders. Torvalds has certainly made an impact in the world of computers.

Tim Berners-Lee

white hat hacker tim berners lee   5 Of The World’s Most Famous And Most Influential White Hat HackersTim Berners-Lee 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.

Later, he worked with CERN and developed an inhouse system that allowed researchers to share and update information quickly. This would be the seedling idea that eventually grew into the hypertext protocol for the World Wide Web.

Julian Assange

white hat hacker julian assange   5 Of The World’s Most Famous And Most Influential White Hat HackersJulian Assange is a computer programmer and journalist who is best known for founding WikiLeaks, a website that publishes documents provided by
“whistleblowers,” or people who disclose information regarding allegedly illegal or dishonest activities within a government department. WikiLeaks was first launched in 2006.

At the age of 16, Assange began to hack using the handle “Mendax,” a name derived from the Latin splendide mendax meaning “a splendid liar.” He operated under a self-imposed code that included: 1) not harming systems that he broke into, 2) not altering information in systems that he broke into, and 3) sharing information whenever possible.

This behavioral code was the beginning of what would later become his driving philosophy for WikiLeaks. For Assange, access to government documents and open transparency was an integral aspect of a properly functioning government because it provided public oversight.

Tsutomu Shimomura

white hat hacker tsutomu shimomura   5 Of The World’s Most Famous And Most Influential White Hat HackersFunny enough, Tsutomu Shimomura is a white hat hacker who gets his fame from an incident with a black hat hacker, Kevin Mitnick. Specifically, Mitnick sent a personal attack to Shimomura by hacking into his computers. In response, Shimomura decided to help the FBI in capturing Mitnick.

In a battle of wits, Shimomura managed to outclass Mitnick by hacking a cell phone and using it to monitor phone calls. Using Mitnick’s own phone against him, Shimomura tracked him down to an apartment complex and Mitnick was quickly arrested. The events of this incident were later adapted to the big screen in a movie called Takedown.

Are there any other famous white hat hackers who I missed? Put his (or her) name down and share it in the comments!

Image Credit: Computer Expert Image Via Shutterstock

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

71 Comments -

Achraf Almouloudi

You didn’t mention Bill Gates and Steve Jobs who hacked old systems to create better ones for people .

Ashutosh Dave

I guess they both were creators of the system but they didn’t hack anything…they just made something new!!

Achraf Almouloudi

To do so Bill Gates purchased and hacked Dos to make Msdos first, but I’m not sure if the name of what Steve Jobs hacked is Unix or something else .

Doc

Jobs created the NeXT computer, which used Unix as an operating system core (the desktop was built on top of Unix). Linux is also built on Unix; specifically, Torvalds’ kernel on top of the GNU versions of Unix commands.

When Apple bought out NeXT (and brought Jobs back to Apple), Jobs built OS X on NeXT’s code, thus basing OS X on Unix, much as Linux is based on Unix (which is why many Linux programs can be rewritten to run on OS X with a few minor changes).

Victor

Agree to all, with one exception: building OS X out of NeXT was actually leading a group of talented programmers that worked for him to build OS X. I am almost certain Jobs did not do the actual programming. Not less important, but it is not hacking.

The same with creating the NeXT computer. Jobs created the comapny, and most probably lead a group of people to build the OS and the product. It is not hacking.

Doc

@Victor: My reply was to Achraf, explaining that MS-DOS has nothing in common with Unix. MS-DOS was based on SCP-DOS, purchased(?) from Seattle Computer Products.

As for “leading a talented team,” few computer-related products are created by a “lone hacker” any more.

TuhinBagh

LOL girls get high marks in Computer science :P but non of them are good in hacking :P

kyng

For some Julian Assange might as well be a black hat hacker.

Tony M.

Yes, I’m going to enthusiastically agree with KYNG’s comment. One might attempt to argue that if governments revealed all their inner workings, they’d not be able to commit wrong-doings and the world would be a wonderfully better place. This thinking is gravely flawed, though. This assumes all governments, major corporations, and other organizations would willingly comply and reveal all their hidden agenda and secretive operations. It also further assumes there are no bad governments in the world. Therefore, unfortunately, there will always be a need for good guys to use seemingly underhanded techniques in order to frustrate and apprehend bad guys, or undermine militaristic governments who’d do harm to their people or to free, democratic governments. Such necessary, beneficial “underhanded techniques” include covert operations, legal wire-tapping, and other forms of surveillance. Assange has ALSO used his position, tactics and influence to undermine the secretive operations of some friendly, freedom-loving countries, too. Therefore, considering the excellent reputation and good name that “Make Use Of” enjoys, I would have very much preferred that they leave Julian Assange out of this mix.

Oron

One can indeed argue this (and I agree with you, btw), but more to the point, Julian Assange was a black-hat hacker, and only founded Wikileaks later, leaving his earlier “career” behind him. Wikileaks is not a hacking organisation as such, but a media outlet for leaked information.

Denis Paley

Guess it would depend on if you are a member of the 1%’s or as most of us the 99%’s

emrecnl

Agreed with Denis Paley

dirk

clifford stoll.

Adam Waymouth

That was fun to watch, solely based on how animated he is. oh and the story, that was good too. Chris Stoll is one of those guys that you consider first when talking about white hats. I’m not sure why he was left out of the group since network security has had major implications on financial institutes and military conflicts.

Lloyd Moxon

An article about hackers that does not mention Richard Stallman is simply a joke.

Chris

Yeah, can’t have a party without that hippy.

razpet

i agree. Why don’t speak about the father of emacs? better, father of GNU!

Victor

I was going to mention the same thing. Stallman was instrumental to building GNU/Linux. He is still a very influential hacker.

jessemanalansan

Cool. I wanna be a white hacker someday. Lol.

Trevor Lenten

What no Al gore?!! He invented the interwebs. lol

Saikat Basu

Probably you are kidding, but if someone takes you seriously, it is an urban legend and one of the more well known ones. Check the whole story here – http://www.snopes.com/quotes/internet.asp

CrAsH

Where is Kevin Mitnick?

champted

Mitnick is in the black-hat list, where he belongs, IMO. The link to that list is in the article.
There is a major problem with the movie “Takedown”: it asserted Mitnick had been convicted when at the time the movie was made, he was incarcerated, but hadn’t yet been tried.
I also think that Assange doesn’t belong in the white-hat list.

Muhammad Ahmad

Julian Assange is one of the most famous personality.

cypath

Kevin Mitnick a black hacker and Tsutomu Shimomura a white hacker?

I believe Shimomura did some black hacking as well; and the fact that he helped the FBI catch Mitnick does not turn him into a “white hacker”

On the contrary, Mitnick was obsessed by hacking but it was just for the pleasure of it, not with the intention of doing harm. He never took out money from his hacking experiences even though he could have done so.

So, be fair to Mitnick.

michele

the article is clearly titled. It “lists” five great hackers,..then explains the “white hat ‘naming'” [as the author’s definition] which is also clearly stated in the article.

Re: adding Gates and Jobs to this list? I’m one of MANY who would NEVER categorize Mr. Gates as a white hat ANYTHING. I daresay IBM wouldnt consider him a “white hat” either!

As for the MANY multitudes of early “hacker/inventor/pioneers…the list is very long-and for obvious reasons…because they are still actively ‘engaged” -cannot and would not want to be-“named”!

I would absolutely consider Assange to be one of the top five Hackers. And wikileaks is a great example of his white hat endeavors.

NOTE; ALL on this tiny list of “five” are listed simply because they have already been “outed” by the public and their activities. So, although the quality of content is arid at best- it is true to its intended purpose.

If ANy of us had the teeniest inkling as to what IT folks are out there performing daring deeds of salvation and ‘rendition’ of bad actors in cyber and real worlds,… our tiny lil heads would explode when we realized that THEY are the real “Masters of the currently playing universe!”
The revolution has already taken place…don’t worry! you’re in good hands! ;^))) Just ENGAGE and be “part of the great end game” ;^) NAMASTE

Oron

Sorry Joel, but with all due respect they’re not white-hat hackers (with the exception of Tsutomu Shimomura), and in fact I think Tim Berners-Lee would be very surprised to hear himself considered a hacker of any sorts.
They’re all interesting characters, right enough, but the article title is a misnomer and concentrates, in my opinion, on the wrong things.

Rex

Oron.

I don’t totally agree with you. A hacker is not necessarily a person that breaks into a network, for good or for bad. I believe a hacker is a kind of personality that will tinker and explore, curiosity and perseverance being his/her biggest traits. With the exception of Berners-Lee, who is probably a very smart guy that came out with a solution for data transmission, all the others are hackers in their own way.

My two cents…

Oron

Agreed, but a hacker is not the same thing as a white hacker, which this article purports to be about.

Victor

That is true. Both Assange and Shimomura should not be considered “white hackers”.

6dc983b71e41c5151f1a53944eb2544f

The term “hacker” is almost 200 years old. It was used long before the computer or even the electric light bulb was invented. It was first used to describe rural craftsmen who hacked primitive furniture out of tree trunks using a hatchet. The Adirondack chair is a good example although today they are made using power equipment. In the early days of radio amateur radio fans “hacked” together experimental circuits mounted on a “breadboard”, another woodworking term hijacked by the electronics cabal. During the early days of computers we used the breadboard method to hack together rudimentary devices like the infamous Blue Box. Gradually the word “hacker” came to characterize anyone adept at putting together hardware and software. It was used long before Mitnick, Gates, Wosniak or Jobs were even born.

The negative connotation of the term arose because we smart guys wanted to show how smart we were by breaking into corporate and government systems and leaving “Kilroy was here” calling cards. If you were alive during WW2 you know what that means. I was there in the early days of ARPA at the creation of the internet. If I had been smart enough to patent some of the ideas we kicked around, I would be writing this from my yacht in Bermuda. Obviously I’m not as smart as some of the hackers.

LarryZ

Saikat Basu

Today, the definition of the term itself gives rise to heated controversy. At times, it has also stood for people who challenge the existing order as post 2011 with the revolutions in the Middle East. The very word is an interesting sub-culture.

Rob

Is that Steve Wozniak? Or was he separated at birth from Chaz Bono??

Bandele Audifferen

These information is too important to be ignored.

Stephen

Disappointed to see Julian Assange on the list as he is currently seeking assylum in South America to aviod answering charges of sexual molestation in Sweden – has lost credibility in my view.

Paul Dulaney

According to Netflix the name of the movie about Mitnick and Shimomura is “Track Down” not “Takedown.”

Hunter Watts

Great stuff. Informative.

Hunter Watts

How do you get points?

Mason

What about Christopher Tarnovsky he was a black hat and now white.

Denis Paley

Keep contributing to the MUO site,ask questions answer questions and your points will start to add up. Make sure your logged in to the site or anything you do on the site won’t get you credit.

whitehatguy

Isn’t Julian Assange a wanted criminal for stealing and disseminating classified information? And oh, yeah, there’s also those RAPE charges from his home country… pretty stalwart role model you’ve got there, isn’t he?

Joel Lee

If you actually read the article, you would know that “white hat hackers” is not a synonym for “role model.”

No Really

And Assange qualifies for this list? Really?

The only reason he is known at all is because he posted documents illegally obtained from a disenfranchised homosexual in the military, angry about Don’t Ask Don’t tell. To include him in this list next to Wozniak and omit Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson is a complete joke.

Joel Lee

None of that negates the fact that Assange is indeed: 1) famous, 2) influential, and 3) white hat in his philosophy. You may disagree with #3, but then we’ll have to agree to disagree. Thanks for your comment.

Mitch

To call someone a white hat who put the lives of American, soldiers and agents as well as those serving American interests in lethal danger is too ignorant for words.
There have been MANY terrorist attempts since 9/11 and these same men and women are risking their lives to get us the intel we need to stop the psychopaths before they can kill more of us.
Though I certainly agree that SOME of the info he released was a good idea, I don’t think any of it was worth risking human lives. Assange is a self serving glory hound FAR more interested in the “:glory” and the perks than doing any good for anyone.

He reminds me a Mitch Snyder the “hero” of the homeless who finally got called on his incessant lies trying to grossly exaggerate the numbers and cover up the fact that most homeless CHOOSE to be. When that story broke he killed himself. At least it was just himself and not other innocents who died to feed his ego.

Joel Lee

Thanks for your comment.

Should we judge each other based on the intent of our actions or the results of our actions? It seems you would side with the latter, but I implore you to consider the implications of such a position. You’ve touched on a very philosophical point and the following discussion would veer off topic, so I’ll leave it at that. Just some food for thought.

dragonmouth

“Should we judge each other based on the intent of our actions or the results of our actions?”

The path to hell is paved with good intentions. We do not get punished or rewarded for our intentions, only for our acts.

Siddhant

Nice one…

Chitransh Popli

what about Ankit Fadia?

Aryan

I feel Richard M Stallman name should have been included. what do you say?

Joel Lee

Unfortunately, if I extended this list to include every white hacker that deserved to be on this list, it’d be much too long to publish. So while there are other people who definitely deserve to be on this list (Stallman included), I decided to choose 5 different white hat hackers that represented a broad spectrum. You are right, though, so thank you for your comment.

JBjerga

Great article, as always. Almost everyone (who know next to nothing about computers) always thinks of malicious hackers who use their skills for “evil” and not that the simple term “hacker” has nothing to do with malicious intent, just a person who has a certain set of skills. Thank you for publicizing the fact that there are “white hat hackers” as well!

Joel Lee

You’re welcome! Thank you for your kind words. :)

JBjerga

p.s. and also for the other article on the 5 malicious hackers as well!

Rocking Rameez

this is cool hidden stuff

Mervyn Shorten

Grood Article! Really enjoyed it!

ferdinan Sitohang

They are great man which gives big contribute into it world

druv vb

Well, without those ” white hat hackers ” (even though others are not mentined), our small planet would not have witnessed technological advances from the iOS Apples, the Linux’s Androids phones, to the web pages we are viewing with all those html coding…..
Long live the hackers of yesterdays,
and best of luck to future hackers bringing good to other people…

Mani Ahmed

Steve vozonick and julian assange have certainly been on the regular readers list for me however the rest turned out to be interesting reads !

Rohitmittal3003

they are best

syed asghar

Hi,
I love S.Wozniak because he made the computer possible to become pc.So that common man can enjoy the luxury of the computer. And rest is the history.
10q

John Jullies Palma

My idols! :D

Daanish Millwalla

GeoHotz probably?

cwsnyder

Okay, this is old-fashioned, but how about Peter Norton?

Rishabh Sharma

What aboutt Ankit Fadia??

Kaashif Haja

Wozniak is my all time favourite! I haven’t heard about this guy Tsutomu Shimomura.

O.Elshal

well interesting article..
but you should ‘ve added Stallaman too :/

Theo Reisinger

Wow, I haven’t heard of many of these people even though I know about the things they’re “famous” for. Shimomura’s story is pretty awesome.

Aryan Vaid

I want to be like that in future. Hope to do some positive in life like them