Jonathan James, The Young Man with Only 15 Years Hack and Put Head to NASA and The Pentagon

Between June and October 1999 was carried out one of the most amazing episodes in the history of computer crimes. The United States Department of Defense (DOD) discovered a series of intrusions by private companies, school, as well as the same DoD and until NASA systems. Interesting thing about all this is that these intrusions were work of a young man of just 15 years of age.

Jonathan Joseph James It is part of the history books as the first cracker (which, for practical purposes, we will refer to it as a ‘hacker’) minor in be sentenced for cybercrime in the United States. This is his story.


Native of the city of Miami, Jonathan James, who It operated under the pseudonym of ‘C0mrade’, It is considered one of the largest hacker’s history, thanks to its large capacity access systems private entertainment. Between 29 and 30 June, Jonathan managed to break the security of NASA and access 13 PCs where it stole software and information with a value of $ 1.7 million, prompting that the Agency would have to turn off their system for 21 days, an action that would cost them 41,000 dollars in repairs and losses.

Are subsequently discovered that software that stole ‘C0mrade’ was of the source code controlling critical elements of survival within the international space station. According to NASA, this software allows to control the temperature and the humidity inside the ISS, as well as other important elements of the physical environment. Therefore, NASA decided to turn off everything and rewrite part of the source code, in addition to strengthening the security of its systems.

By August 1999, Jonathan had already managed to undermine systems of the large telecommunications company BellSouth, Marshall flight space in Huntsville, Alabama, Center and the Miami-Dade County school system, but what would cause that alerts the authorities will come, would be a intrusion to the computers of the United States Department of defense in the Pentagon.

Jonathan had become in the first person in the world to crack to the DOD entering the system from the threat reduction Agency to the Defense (DTRA), the DOD division responsible for analysing the possible threats to the United States. But here the interesting thing is how had managed all this.

Jonathan had found a backdoor in one of the servers of Dulles, Virginia, where he installed a sniffer that allowed him to spy on thousands of calls and messages, but their objective focused on the staff of the DTRA. Between September and October 1999 he managed to intercept more than 3,000 messages between employees of the Agency, messages which enabled him to obtain usernames and passwords that gave him access to 10 military computers.

The capture of the minor hacker

After several weeks of investigation, on 26 January 2000, agents of the DOD, NASA and the Pinecrest Police Department got finally an order to enter the House of Jonathan and apprehending a hacker.

In September of that same year, Jonathan, already with 16 years, stated guilty of two counts of ‘youth crime’, Since being minor, it was impossible to apply other types of charges, in addition to computer-related crime were not yet fully established in U.S. law. It is estimated that if Jonathan had been adult had been able to reach a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a fine by several thousand dollars for damage.

This is how Jonathan received a sentence by six months of house arrest, the prohibition of access to computers for recreational use, probation until he was 18 years old, and required to write letters of apology to 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 in most of their computers. They lack a true computer security, and the most complicated part is that they realize it. I know Unix and C as the Palm of my hand, and this because I have studied a lot of books and I’ve been glued to a computer during this time. The hard part is not to enter, this is learn and really know what they are doing.”

Before the age of 18 years, Jonathan It would violate the terms of his probation by giving positive for drug use, so he was arrested by the Department of Marshalls in the United States. Therefore, Jonathan was sentenced to spend six months in the Youth Correctional Center of Alabama.

C0mrade decides to put an end to its history

January 17, 2007 you would know one larger computer attacks up to that time in United States. The TJX Companies commercial conglomerate, as well as BJ’s Wholesale Club, Boston Market, Barnes & Noble, Sports Authority, Forever 21, DSW, OfficeMax, and Dave & Buster’s, were victims of a cyberattack that stole millions of customer credit and personal information.

Eventually it would find hacker Albert González was primarily responsible for such attacks. During the investigations, also they gave the name of several hackers who allegedly collaborated with González, where it was discovered that some of them were linked in some way with Jonathan James, so the secret service of the United States would focus its attention on C0mrade.

The secret service would pave the House of Jonathan, his brother’s, and even the girlfriend, but they were never able to find a connection or tracks of their collaboration on the attack. Subsequently you would know that the secret service would have found a firearm legally registered, as well as a suicide letter, which indicated that Jonathan had tried to take his life previously without success.

On May 18, 2008, Jonathan, of 25 years, was found dead in the shower in your home with a gunshot wound in the head, Here the investigations would aim to that it had attempted to suicide. Jonathan had also left a note that included personal messages to his father, brother and girlfriend, as well as passwords to your account PayPal and MySpace.

In that note, you could also read details that would have helped Jonathan decide to take their own lives.

“I have faith in the ‘justice’ system. Perhaps my actions today, and this letter, sent a strong message to the public. Either way, I’ve lost the control over this situation, and this is my only way to get back it.”

“Now, honestly, honestly, I have nothing to do with TJX. Despite the fact that Chris (Scott) and Albert González are ‘hackers’ most dangerous and destructive to the Feds caught ever, I am a much more juicy target for the public that two idiots at random. Thus it is the life.”

“Remember, it is not what you win or lose, is what I win or lose to sitting in a prison for 10, 20 or even five years for a crime that I did not make I, this is not my way to ‘win’, therefore I prefer to die free.”

The following year, Robert James, his father, would break the silence to mention that Jonathan suffered depression, However, always considered it a very intelligent person. Despite this, he never managed to have a close relationship with him. Robert, who is also a programmer, admits that he always felt some pride by what his son had done to NASA and DOD.

Robert James reminiscent of Jonathan as a passionate geek that he liked to use family computers since I was 6 years old. When I was studying high school managed to delete Windows to your home computer to install Linux. Robert also mentioned that together with his spouse, they tried several times to rules to Jonathan about the use of the computer at home, since came a moment where he didn’t sleep for being glued to the monitor.

The last conversation of Mr James with Jonathan was after raids on secret service in your home. Robert would call his son to ask if they would find something incriminating, to what Jonathan would only respond with a “no”.