Meet the 'Great Lost Female Hacker of the 1980s'

Susy Thunder has had an interesting life, as the Verge explains
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 29, 2022 8:15 AM CST
Meet the 'Great Lost Female Hacker of the 1980s'
   (Getty/kynny)

(Newser) – Susan Headley—aka Susy Thunder—claims to be one of only three women to have slept with all four Beatles. Oh, but this is not a story about that phase of her life, when she was one of the better-known rock groupies in California in the late 1970s. No, the deep dive by Claire L. Evans at the Verge focuses mostly on what came after that, when Thunder emerged as one of the most prominent hackers in the burgeoning age of computers. (She was in cahoots back then with Kevin Mitnick, who would go on to become perhaps the most famous hacker in the world, though their relationship doesn't end well.) Thunder, however, eventually abandoned the world of hacking and disappeared from the public eye. For her story, Evans sets out to find "the great lost female hacker of the 1980s"—that she was a 6-foot-2 blonde woman in a male-centric culture only added to her fame—and succeeds.

“You know why nobody knows who I am?” Thunder, who closely guards her privacy, says in one phone call. “Because I never got caught. All the best hackers, all the best phreakers in the world, we don’t know who they are because they never got arrested." The story is a fascinating look at the early days of hacking, which back then required a mastery of the phone system and the modems that connected computers. Dumpster diving for manuals is involved. (Thunder demonstrates her hacking skills in a 1982 report by Geraldo Rivera for 20/20 on the new age of "electronic delinquency. See the video.) Thunder, by the way, managed all this while moonlighting as a dominatrix at a sex club. Today, however, she is married and "lives a quiet life in a large Midwestern city," writes Evans. Read the full story, which details her falling out with Mitnick and another prominent hacker. (Read more Longform stories.)

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