top of page

Jonathan James: A 15-Year old teen from Florida hacks the Department of Defense and NASA

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

You know about many deadliest cybercrimes in the history of cybersecurity. Mainly you come to know about the motive of the cyberattacks, the consequences, the investigation of the attack, and many more through the internet. The Internet lets you access every piece of information that is related to a case and makes you aware of the same. These cyberattacks harm the economy of the organization. Today we are going to elaborate on one of those biggest cyberattacks which made the most secure agency in the world get floored out of nowhere.

Most people think that a hacker would look like a bearded man, wearing big large sized hoodies, and sitting in front of multiple monitors in a darkened room. Reality is a way different from these filmy appearances.



How he hacked the system and what are the losses faced by NASA?

In 1999, Jonathan, a 15-year-old boy who used to operate on the internet through the name ‘c0mrade’ intrudes into the system of one of the most secure agencies in the world called ‘NASA’, making himself fall in the list of ‘the most famous hackers of all time’. The reason or motive behind the attack was nothing. He intruded into the system of NASA for fun. In late August 1999, Jonathan breached other systems of some organizations which include schools in the US and also the department of telecommunication. Later he planned to do something big. He started panning about how will he intrude into the system of NASA. He was able to build a program that he tested in small firms, and stores which resulted in success. Then he implemented the same thing in the NASA systems and networks. It turned out to be one of the greatest data breaches of all time. Basically, he was able to install a backdoor in the system of NASA. NASA Organization could not even find anything in the first few days. Later when a security expert first noticed some changes in his system, the organization came to know that they have been hacked. They had to shut down the full system for over 21 days. It took them around 3 weeks to recover from the attack. James not only breached their data but also stole software that was worth around 1.7 Million Dollars. Additionally, he found a source code of the International Space Station which helps in the control of the physical environment including the control of temperature and humidity. It cost NASA around 41 Million Dollars in the recovery and repair of the system.


After Effects (Arrest, Conviction, and Sentencing) -

After a few days, the Cybersecurity experts of the US Department of Defense started to investigate this cyber attack and were able to trace James and raided his house on January 26, 2000, and he was sentenced to seven months of house arrest on the charge of wiretapping and computer misuse. He was also asked not to come in contact with any source of computers, or electronic devices. James was detained by the US Marshals Service and imprisoned for six months in an Alabama federal prison after testing positive for drugs while on probation. At that time, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno declared: "Taking over unauthorized access into someone else's property, whether it is a robbery or a computer intrusion, is a serious crime." Further, he added that they take cybercrimes seriously and are actively tackling the issue with their law enforcement agencies.


Conclusion -

After this incident and sentencing, James became a bit depressed because everyone out there used to treat him like a criminal. Even after his punishment, in fact, the secret agencies always used to keep an eye on him.

After a few years in 2008, the same kind of data breach was found in the US. The investigating agencies’ prime suspect was James. So they immediately raided his house once again but couldn’t find anything suspicious. Even if they did not find anything still they suspected Jonathan James. James was nervous and scared this time. After a week or so, James took his own life after being charged with planning with other hackers to steal copious amounts of customer and credit card information from department store chain TJX and other well-known retailers. He denied any involvement in the crime even though he thought he would be put on trial for it. As a result of this case, the government and the institutions became more aware of their system’s vulnerability and introduced techniques through which attacks can be prevented.

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page