A functioning society is now integrally linked to a functioning internet. Today, the chances for hypersensitive personal information to be mercilessly swiped from the web is bigger than ever before. As high tech security adapts to the changing needs of the information age, the thieves, spies and hackers know they always have to be a few steps ahead of the game.
Since the internet’s early days in the late eighties, there have been hackers working to bring down websites and swindle customers from their personal and financial information. Each year, the number of cyber attacks rise and the method in which cyber attacks are carried out becomes more sophisticated.
Cyber attacks can affect individuals at a person level and can also affect major companies throughout the entire world. Some of the most notorious attacks have targeted Fortune 500 companies, banks, major retailers, and online marketplaces.
No matter who or what is compromised through a cyber attack, the effects are devastating. Companies are forced to recover from the breach with millions of dollars of upgrades and extra money spent in security. The biggest cyber attacks are most often the ones that cost companies and people the most, and of course leave the hackers with a large chunk of money and a whole lot of notoriety.
10. The Morris Worm
The Arpanet was the precursor to today’s Internet. It was just beginning in the late 1980s, when a young man by the name of Robert Tappan Morris unleashed the first worm virus. The worm virus is able to hide itself on a computer’s hard drive, replicate itself, and spread to other computers on its network. So when it was released on November 2, 1988, by Morris it was intended to be harmless.
According to Morris, a Harvard graduate and Cornell graduate student, he intended for only one copy of the worm to infect each computer. However, Morris programmed the worm to duplicate more often than intended, thus creating a quickly replicating virus that caused massive damage to computers across the country.
More than 6,000 computers at universities, research centers, and military installations were infected with the worm. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated that between $100,000 and $10 million was lost due to lack of access to the Internet. After Morris was caught, he was indicted under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. In 1990, Morris was sentenced to 400 hours of community service, three-years of probation, and a $10,050 fine.
9. 15 Year Old MafiaBoy Brings Down the Internet
How safe is the internet when a 15-year old boy can bring down six major websites? Not very safe. But Michael Calce changed all that.
Calce had been a computer whiz since he was nine years old, and was able to hack the AOL system in order to stay online past his 30-minute free trial window. As his hacking skills grew, so did his presence in online hacking groups.
Then, in 2000, Calce, who went by the screen name MafiaBoy, launched the biggest hack on the internet to date. Within hours, MafiaBoy was able to overload websites with too much information and completely take them down. Besides the major universities that his hack effected, he was also able to render Amazon, CNN, Dell, E*Trade, eBay, and Yahoo! completely useless.
The FBI almost immediately closed in on Calce and was eventually charged with more than 50 crimes. He was sentenced to eight months in a youth group home. The Clinton Administration created a plethora of cyber security laws and upped all internet security standards.
8. Jonathan James Shuts Down NASA
Yet another 15-year-old was able to a lot of damage with just his hacking ability and a single computer. This time, the teenager was Jonathan James and the system that he hacked was none other than the National Aeronautics and Space Administration or as most of us know it, NASA. On June 29th and 30th of 1999, James hacked into 13 of NASA’s computers at the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
During those two days within NASA’s computer systems, James managed to download software and steal a large amount of data. From there he was able to hack into the Defense Threat Reduction Agency during the months of September and October of 1999.
During that time, James stole close to 20 usernames and passwords as well as more than 3,300 messages within the Defense Department. James was arrested in January of 2000 and plead guilty to two counts of juvenile delinquency. He served six months in juvenile detention.
7. Gonzalez TJX Hack
In the early 2000s a group of cyber attackers known as Shadowcrew rose to infamy with a handful of successful hacking schemes. But one member of the group, Albert Gonzalez, was a hacker extraordinaire and according to Seth Kosto, an assistant U.S. attorney in New Jersey, an “Unparalleled” leader of those that assisted in his crimes.
In his early twenties Gonzalez was stealing millions from personal bank accounts through fake credit cards. After he was caught, Gonzalez avoid being prosecuted by assisting the government in bringing down Shadowcrew. However, as he helped the government, he also set up and completed one of the biggest cyber attacks ever.
With a group of hackers to assist him, Gonzalez managed to gain access to approximately 180 million payment-card accounts from customer databases of corporations such as OfficeMax, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Dave & Buster’s, T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, Sports Authority, Barnes & Noble, JCPenney, Target, Boston Market, and 7-Eleven. For his cyber crimes, Gonzalez was sentenced to two 20 year terms, which is the longest sentence that has ever been imposed on an American for computer crimes.
6. Epsilon Hack
In 2011, Epsilon was the world’s largest email marketing firm. The company handled more than 40 billion emails and over 2,000 brands worldwide. On April 4, Epsilon’s system was breached, leaving the private email addresses of millions of people vulnerable.
The specific type of attack that was unleashed on Epsilon is called spear phishing, in which hackers use fake emails to trick people into disclosing personal information such as passwords and/or financial details.
The breech came after Epsilon had been warned numerous times by Return Path, a business partner of Epsilon, that hackers had been targeting email service providers via spear phishing attacks. Several of the companies that suffered due to the Epsilon attack were Best Buy, Citi, Hilton, LL Bean, Marriott, Target, and Walgreens.
5. The Heartland Payment Systems Hack
As with the TJX hack, the main perpetrator behind the Heartland Payment Systems hack was none other than Albert Gonzalez. Heartland Payment Systems, is one of the world’s largest credit and debit card payment processing companies in the world.
Just before Gonzalez was arrested in May of 2008, he was able to assist two unidentified Russian hackers to breach the heavily secured systems of Heartland Payment Systems. In January of 2009, the company announced that its systems had been breached.
Many of the credit and debit card numbers were sold online and many others were used to make purchases. In total, Gonzalez and his Russian conspirators made off with 130 million credit and debit card numbers.
4. Sony Attack of 2011
Sony Playstation Network holds the personal information of hundreds of millions of customers who enjoy their online and at home gaming systems. But on April 17, 18, and 19 of 2011, the Sony system was breached by hackers. The information of 77 million people was stolen, including personal, billing, and credit card information.
A few days later, Sony reported a second attack that led to approximately 24.6 million user’s personal information being stolen on the Sony Online Entertainment site.
After the second breach, Sony shut down its online site and started working to gain back their clients’ trust. Sony’s executive, Kazuo Hirai identified the group of hackers known as Anonymous as the masterminds of the attack. The group immediately denied involvement.
3. Target Hack
2014 was a year of pricey cyber attacks. From Home Depot to Target, major retailers were the victim of many of the attacks. Target, a favorite store among those who enjoy style and home furnishings as a reasonable price, was hacked in early 2014.
Approximately 110 million accounts were compromised, exposing shoppers names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and credit card information. 1 to 3 million of the credit cards stolen were sold on the black market, giving hackers $53.7 million.
According to experts, Target ignored memos from the federal government that expressed concern over Target’s malware that posed a threat to Target’s payment system. In the end, the attack cost Target $148 million. It also cost financial institutions approximately $200 million. Despite Target’s upgrade of almost $61 million in anti-breach technology, its profits fell by 46 percent.
2. Sony Attack of 2014
While many cyber attacks target customers and their personal information, the attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment targeted Sony Pictures employees. Information about executive salaries, emails between Sony employees, personal family information of Sony employees and copies of previously unreleased Sony films.
Intelligence officials for the United States alleged that it was North Korea who infiltrated Sony Pictures systems. North Korea immediately denied the accusation. However, skepticism still remained as the hackers behind the attack, who called themselves “Guardians of Peace” demanded the cancellation of the release of the film The Interview which was about a plot to assassinate Kim Jong-un.
The hack went a step further as two messages from the Guardians of Peace were released threatening Sony into keeping The Interview from ever making it to theaters.
1. Hong Kong Attacks
Occupy Central began in Hong Kong during September of 2014. Supports of Occupy Central block roads and make movement among Hong Kong’s financial district nearly impossible in Hong Kong.
Two website, Apple Daily and PopVote have been supporters of Occupy Central, but because of their pro-democratic position, the websites have also been the target of very sophisticated cyber attacks.
The websites have been rendered nearly incapable of functioning due to high levels of DDoS attacks, or distributed denial of service attacks. DDoS attacks work to overload the server that hosts the website. This makes it impossible for people to visit the website. As the attacks have continued, they have gotten more intense, surfacing most often when a news story about protests by Occupy Central came out.
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