Top 10 most notorious cyber attacks in history

Who needs a gun when you have a keyboard?

  • Cyber warfare seems to be dominating headlines as of late. Be it a clandestine groups hacking computers for ‘fun’ or alleged government agencies attempting to steal classified information, the Internet landscape has been transformed into a binary battlefield.
    Who needs a gun when you have a keyboard?
    With many of us unlikely to join in on the action, ARN has assembled a list the most notorious cyber attacks in history.

  • Robert Tappan Morris and the Morris Worm (1988):

    Creator of the first computer worm transmitted through the Internet, Morris, a student at Cornell Univeristy in the USA, claimed it his progeny was not aimed to harm but was made for the innocuous intent to determine the vastness of the cyberspace.
    Things went pear-shaped when a the worm encountered a critical error and morphed into a virus which replicated rapidly and began infecting other computers resulting in denial of service. The damage? 6000 computers were reportedly affected causing an estimated $10-$100 million dollars in repair bills.
    While this event could be pinned as being an unfortunate accident, it no doubt played a part in inspiring the calamitous distributed denial-of-service (DdoS) type of attacks we see today.
  • MafiaBoy causes $1 billion dollars in damages (2000):

    Another 15 year old that caused mischief in cyber space was Michael Calce a.k.a. MafiaBoy.
    In 2000, Calce, now 25, was just a Canadian high school student when decided to unleash a DDoS attack on a number of high-profile commercial websites including Amazon, CNN, eBay and Yahoo!.An industry expert estimated the attacks resulted in a $US1.2 billion dollar damage bill.
    He was later apprehended. Because he was still a juvenile, Calce was sentenced in 2001 to eight months in open custody, meaning his movements and actions would be restricted. His online access was also limited by the court.
    Calce and since scored gigs as a columnist and recently published a book about his ordeal.
  • Google China hit by cyber attack (2009):

    When Google's Chinese headquarters detected a security breech in mid-December, it opened up a whole can of worms (pun intended) implicating the Chinese Government.
    Hackers had gained access to several Google’s corporate servers and intellectual property was stolen.
    In a blog, Google said it has “evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinse human rights activists”. As the company dug deeper, they found numerous Gmail of users from US, China and Europe had been routinely been accessed without permission. Those emails belonged to advocates of human rights in China.
    All eyes darted towards the Chinse Government, which has been accused of flagrantly disregarding human rights for years.
    Google entered the Chinese market with in 2006 and capitulated to China’s stringent Internet censorship regime. The cyber attacks in December 2009 resulted in the company’s re-evaluation of its business in the country.
    In March 2010, Google relocated its servers for to Hong Kong in order to escape China’s Internet filtering policy.
  • Teen hacks NASA and US Defense Department:
    The year was 1999. Jonathan James was 15 at the time but what he did that year secured him a place in the hacker’s hall of fame.
    James had managed to penetrate the computers of a US Department of Defense divison and installed a ‘backdoor’ on its servers. This allowed him to intercept thousands of internal emails from different government organisations including ones containing usernames and passwords for various military computers.
    Using the stolen information, James was able to steal a piece of NASA software which cost the space exploration agency $41,000 as systems were shutdown for three weeks.
    According to NASA, “the software [purported to be worth $1.7 million] supported the International Space Station’s physical environment, including control of the temperature and humidity within the living space.”
    James was later caught but received a light sentence due to his young age.
    He committed suicide in 2008 after he was accused of conspiring with other hackers to steal credit card information. James denied the allegation in his suicide letter.
  • Phone lines blocked to win Porsche (1995)
    Kevin Poulsen is famous for his work in hacking into the Los Angeles phone system in a bid to win a Ferrari on a radio competiton.
    LA KIIS FM was offering a Porsche 944 S2 to the 102th caller. Poulsen guaranteed his success as he took control of the phone network and effectively blocked incoming calls to the radio station’s number.
    He won the Porsche but the law caught up to him and he was sentenced to five years in prison.
    Poulsen later became the senior editor for IT security publication, Wired News.
  • Hacker targets Scientology (2008):
    In January 2008, a New Jersey teenager along with a gang of hackers launched a DDoS attack that crippled the Church of Scientology website for several days.
    The group is dubbed Annoymous and is staunchly against the ‘religion’.
    Dmitriy Guzner, who was 19 years old, was charged and convicted for the DDoS attack. The maximum penalty was 10 years prison and a $250,000 fine but he was ultimately sentenced to two years probation and was ordered to pay the Church of Scientology $37,500.
    A second man has been charged for the attack.
  • Solar Sunrise (1998):
    Originally thought to have been the efforts of Iraqi operatives, a systematic cyber attack was launched in the US which seized control of over 500 government and private computer systems. The hackers were exploiting computers running on the Sun Solaris operating system, hence collective attacks were called ‘Solar Sunrise’.
    The US Government assembled a number of defense divisions including the FBI and the Defense Information Systems Agency to investigate the matter.
    Much to everybody’s surprise, there were no Iraqi operatives involved in the hacking. Investigations resulted in the arrest of three teenagers from California.
    While it was cased closed for ‘Solar Sunrise’, the attacks highlighted how a co-ordinated effort could affect an entire country’s IT infrastructure.
  • The Melissa virus (1999)
    It was a very simple virus which ended up costing $80 million in damages.
    The Melissa virus would infect Microsoft Word documents and automatically disseminates itself as an attachment via email. It would mail out to the first 50 names listed in an infected computer’s Outlook email address box.
    The creator of Melissa, David Smith, said he did not intend for the virus to harm computers but was still arrested and sentenced to 20 months in prison.
    Incidentally, anti-virus software sales went gangbusters that year.
  • Internet attacked (2002):
    In 2002, a cyber attack aimed squarely at all 13 domain name system’s root servers in the US almost brought the Internet to its knees. It was a DDoS attack which lasted for one hour. While it doesn’t some like a long time, it was the scale of the attack that was most alarming.
    At that time, US Federal authorities described the attack as the largest and most complex in history.
    Internet servers were severely strained for one hour although users probably didn’t experience any adverse effects. But if the attacks lasted any longer, it would have brought the Internet to a standstill.
  • Hacker steals tens of million of credit card details (2009):
    t Gonzales, a hacker from Miami, was responsible for one of the biggest fraud case in US history.
    Gonzales was responsible for sealing tens of millions of credit card and debit card numbers from over 250 financial institutions. He had hacked the payment card network from companies including the 7-Eleven convenient store chain.
    Facing at least three separate cases related to hacking in three states, Gonzales pled guilty in December.
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