Hackers 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.
Have 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 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 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 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.
Funny 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!
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