Jonathan James, the young man who at the age of 15, hacked and put the head of NASA and the Pentagon
Between June and October of 1999, Jonathan James carried out one of the most incredible episodes in the history of computer crimes. The United States Department of Defense (DOD) discovered several intrusions to private companies, school systems, DOD itself, and even NASA. The interesting thing about all this is that these intrusions were the work of a young man of just 15 years of age.
Jonathan Joseph James is part of the history books as the first cracker (which for practical purposes we will refer to him as a ‘hacker’) under age in being sentenced for cybercrimes in the United States. This is his story.
C0mrade was Jonathan James
A native of Miami, Jonathan James, who operated under the pseudonym of ‘C0mrade’, is considered one of the greatest hackers in history, thanks to his great ability to access private systems for entertainment. Between June 29 and 30, Jonathan managed to break NASA security and access 13 computers from where he stole software and information worth $ 1.7 million, which caused the agency to shut down their systems for 21 days, an action that would cost them $ 41,000 in repairs and losses.
Later it would be discovered that the software that stole ‘C0mrade’ was the source code that controlled critical survival elements within the International Space Station. According to NASA, this software allowed to control temperature and humidity within the ISS and other important physical environment elements. Because of the above, NASA decided to turn everything off, rewrite part of the source code, and reinforce the security of their systems.
By August 1999, Jonathan had already breached the systems of the great telecommunications company BellSouth, the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the Miami-Dade school system, but that would cause the authorities would ignite, would be an intrusion to the computers of the Department of Defense of the United States in the Pentagon.
Jonathan had become the first person in the world to crack the DOD by entering the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) system, the DOD division charged with analyzing possible threats to the United States. But here, the most interesting thing is how he had achieved all this.
Jonathan had found a backdoor on one of the servers in Dulles, Virginia, where he installed a sniffer that allowed him to spy on thousands of calls and messages, but his focus was on the DTRA staff. Between September and October 1999, he managed to intercept more than 3,000 messages among agency employees, which allowed him to obtain usernames and passwords that gave him access to 10 military computers.
The capture of the underage hacker
After several weeks of investigation, on Jan. 26, 2000, DOD agents, NASA, and the Pinecrest Police Department were finally ordered to enter Jonathan’s home and apprehend the hacker.
In September of that same year, at the age of 16, Jonathan pleaded guilty to two counts of ‘juvenile delinquency,’ since being a minor was impossible to apply other types of charges. Computer crimes were not yet Fully typified in US law. It is estimated that if Jonathan had grown up, he would have reached a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of several thousand dollars for damages.
That’s how Jonathan received a six-month home arrest warrant, a ban on access to computers for recreational use, parole until he turned 18, and the obligation to write letters of apology to both NASA and DOD.
Later Jonathan would mention in an interview that all these movements were a kind of trophies.
“The government did not have too many security measures on most of their computers, they lack real computer security, and the most complicated part is that they realize it.” I know Unix and C like the palm of my hand, and This is because I have studied a lot of books and I have been stuck to a computer all this time. The difficult part is not to enter, learning, and really knowing what is being done. ”
Before turning 18, Jonathan would violate the terms of his probation by giving positive for drug use, a reason why he was stopped by the department of Marshalls of the United States. Because of the above, Jonathan was sentenced to six months in the Alabama Juvenile Correctional Center.
C0mrade decides to end his story…
On January 17, 2007, Jonathan James would release one of the largest computer attacks in the United States. TJX Companies, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21, DSW, OfficeMax, and Dave & Buster’s, were all victims of a cyberattack that robbed the personal and credit information of millions of customers.
Over time it would be discovered that hacker Albert Gonzalez was primarily responsible for such attacks. During the investigations, several hackers who collaborated with González, where some of them were discovered, were related somehow with Jonathan James. The reason why the Secret Service of the United States would focus on C0mrade.
The Secret Service would level Jonathan’s house, his brother’s, and even his girlfriend’s, but they never managed to find a connection or clues to their collaboration in the attack. It would later be reported that the Secret Service would have found a legally registered firearm, as well as a suicide note, indicating that Jonathan had previously attempted to kill himself without success.
On May 18, 2008, Jonathan, 25, was found dead in the shower of his house with a gunshot wound to the head, here the investigations would indicate that it had been a suicide. Jonathan had also left a note that included personal messages to his father, brother, and girlfriend and his PayPal and MySpace account passwords.
On that note, you could also read details that would have led Jonathan to decide to kill himself.
“I have no faith in the ‘justice’ system – perhaps my actions today, and this letter, will send a strong message to the public, but I have lost control of this situation, and this is my only way of recovering it. ”
“Now, honestly, I have nothing to do with TJX. Even though Chris (Scott) and Albert Gonzalez are the most dangerous and destructive hackers the Feds have ever captured, I am a much more objective Juicy for public opinion than two random idiots. That’s life. ”
“Remember, it’s not about what you win or lose, it’s about what I win or lose sitting in prison for 20, 10, or even 5 years for a crime I did not commit, this is not my way of ‘Win,’ so I’d rather die free. ”
The following year, Robert James, his father, would break the silence by mentioning that Jonathan suffered depression, nevertheless, always considered a knowledgeable person. Despite this, he never managed to have a close relationship with him. Robert, also a programmer, admits that he always felt a certain pride in what his son had managed to do to NASA and DOD.
Robert James recalls Jonathan as a passionate geek who has enjoyed using family computers since 6 years old. In high school, he managed to delete Windows from his home computer to install Linux. Robert also mentions that his wife tried several times to put rules to Jonathan on using the computer at home since a moment arrived in which he did not sleep by being glued to the monitor.
Mr. James’s last conversation with Jonathan was after the Secret Service broke into his home. Robert would call his son to ask if they would find something to incriminate him, to which Jonathan would reply only with a “no.”