In 1970, a 14-year-old boy named Bill Gates dialed into a nationwide computer network uploaded a virus he had written and caused the entire network to crash. Five years later he and Paul Allen founded Microsoft.
In 1973 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak went around college dorms in California selling blue boxes that let students bypass telephone-company restrictions and make long-distance calls for free. In 1976 Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak would found Apple.
Kevin Mitnick first gained unauthorized access to a computer network in 1979, at 16, when a friend gave him the phone number for the Ark, the computer system Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) used for developing their RSTS/E operating system software. He broke into DEC’s computer network and copied their software. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.
Kevin Poulsen is best known for his takeover of all of the telephone lines for Los Angeles radio station KIIS-FM, guaranteeing that he would be the 102nd caller and win the prize of a Porsche 944 S2. He was sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay $56,000 in restitution. At the time, it was the longest sentence ever given for cracking
In 2010 Aaron Swartz, broke into a utility closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he hooked up a laptop to the campus network and downloaded 4 million academic journal articles, most of them in the public domain, from a paid archive to which he had a subscription. He faced 50 years in federal prison and a $1 million fine.
The difference between then and now is the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986. Which states in section 1030:
“Unauthorized access into a protected network or computer a federal crime and permits harsh penalties for those convicted.”
The problem with this law is it’s to veg. If you loan someone your Netflix account or by accident open their e-mail on your iPad you just broke the law. Not to mention the punishments for these crimes are hugely disproportionate to the offenses. Most hackers get harsher punishments then serious physical crime, such as assault, burglary, grand theft larceny or involuntary manslaughter. The other issue is due to the patriot act hacking is considered almost like a form of terrorism.
I do not think all hackers are bad some of them become legitimate security researchers and make great money finding vulnerabilities in products. Companies like Facebook, Google and Apple pay good money for every vulnerability you find in there software and in a controlled legitimate situation there is no reason not to hone up your skills and make some legit money as a hacker.