We are fortunate to live in an incredibly advanced age, where we can buy things on Amazon and have them at our doorstep within a day or two, instantly communicate with anyone around the globe, and have access to precisely all of the “crying Michael Jordan” memes ever created.
But with that massive power at our fingertips comes immense responsibility and an even greater need for security. Hackers have wormed their way into the very fabric of our lives. Sometimes the damage can be fixed with a simple virus protection program. Other times it can bring a country to its knees. These are some of the most impressive hacks ever unleashed upon the world.
10. The Bitcoin hack
Cryptocurrency is a concept that not a lot of people understand, let alone use. But the people that use it, really use it. Basically, it’s a digital currency that uses encryption security measures, and is independent of a normal bank. There’s no physical, tangible money. You might ask, “but that doesn’t seem like it’s real,” and we would probably agree.
Nonetheless, many people online have fallen for adopted cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, though those numbers may have dipped since a major hack in 2018 by cyberthieves. A major Bitcoin company in South Korea lost about 30 percent of its virtual money holdings, which led to about a 30 billion dollars loss for cryptocurrency overall in just seven hours of trading. It caused the price of Bitcoin itself to drop around 7 percent almost instantly. This is all interesting, in that the very idea of cryptocurrency is its inherent safety, which is paramount online. The fact that an encrypted digital currency can be undone in a day of hacking raises strong concerns about its longevity.
9. The Conficker worm
2008 may not seem very long ago, but in the digital age, that’s like decades. Whole hardware and operating systems that were ubiquitous at the time have been rendered obsolete. So it’s strange to hear that a simple computer virus that was prevalent at the time is still loitering around the digital wasteland.
The Conficker worm was discovered in 2008, when it infected around 15 million computers due to its ability to be shared easily, and spread through software and removable media devices. This virus is different, though. Conficker doesn’t even steal data — it’s method is to spread to as many computers as possible and disrupt things that way. And even as recently as 2017, there were several million successful infections of computers. That’s some serious service time for a bug. One of the most common ways it happens are unpatched computers on a network. Word to the wise: those annoying software updates are your friends.
8. The Iran nuke hack
The 1983 Matthew Broderick movie WarGames dealt with the vulnerabilities of military systems to motivated hackers. In the film, he toyed with the defense department and eventually scared the pants off everyone, making it seem like a Russian nuke launch was imminent. You would think the systems in place to make a nuclear winter possible would be secure enough to not be susceptible to computer shenanigans, right?
Well, the country of Iran would tell you it’s not that absurd. In 2010, a virus named Stuxnet invaded their nuclear systems, a product of Israeli-American computer wizardry. The virus targeted Iran’s centrifuges, which helped to enrich uranium that would be used for nuclear weapons. The bug would spin those centrifuges until they busted, all while reporting everything was normal. Eventually, up to 20 percent of the country’s centrifuges were useless. And this was over the course of a couple of years. Everything was going fine until Israel ramped up the program to be more aggressive, and Iran became wise to the plan. It has since set off a rash of hacked public services and secret government programs around the globe. All hailing from a tiny virus no bigger than 500 kilobytes.
The Spamhaus Project is an organization whose entire purpose is the tracking and fighting of spam. They hate spam. The group scours the internet to find the worst of the spammers and compile them into a list. Some estimates put their success rate at 80 percent. 80 percent…of all the spam that gets blocked, like, ever.
One group that drew the ire of Spamhaus was CyberBunker. CyberBunker stores the data and content of literally almost anyone except for “child porn and anything related to terrorism.” Their words. Spamhaus blacklisted CyberBunker, claiming they allow themselves to be used as a host for megaspammers. CyberBunker didn’t react well to being ostracized, and though they claim they had nothing to do with it, someone likely took their side and initiated the largest cyberattack in history. In what’s called a DDoS attack, where a website is flooded with requests to the point of crashing, Spamhaus was knocked offline and Internet around the globe was slowed down. A reported 100,000 servers were used to inundate the site, and more bandwidth was taken up than any other attack ever attempted. That is a serious overreaction to wanting less ads for genital enhancement in peoples’ inboxes.
6. The Melissa virus
Ah, the growing pains of the early Internet Age. It seems so innocent, but even as your AOL connection page starting screeching its demonic language, there could have been one of the early Net viruses worming its way into your prehistoric computers.
The Melissa virus of 1999 was a document widely shared online, in which there were promises of all sorts of passwords to get into paid porn sites. The document attachment to the emails were opened, a bum Microsoft Word doc opened, and the Melissa virus took over from there. It would then hack into the user’s email program and mass-send itself to fifty of the recipient’s contacts. There wasn’t much those days that was sensitive on peoples’ computers, but it did wreak havoc on the business world, shutting down servers at companies as big as Microsoft. All told, the virus hit up more than a million computers and affected 20 percent of North American businesses, while racking up $80 million in computer damages.
5. The Fappening
Surely it’s not surprising that in the digital age, people are taking advantage of apps like Snapchat and other texting options to send each other photos of their nether bits. It becomes an even bigger deal when we find out celebrities are doing the same things we are. Going back to leaked sex tapes of Kim Kardashian and Pam and Tommy Lee, the spectre of celebrity genitalia sets the world on fire. But nothing on the level of 2014’s mass image dump of hacked iCloud photos, lovably known as “The Fappening.”
Almost 500 photos were leaked to the notorious 4chan site of celebrities in the buff, stolen from private iCloud accounts. Apple itself has seemingly had the reputation of being a closed system that is much more difficult to hack, but those responsible were well-versed in a technique called “spear phishing”, which involves gathering all the personal info on a target possible to hack their sensitive material. The FBI was quick on the case, eventually tracking the work to a few hackers spread throughout the United States, and they earned varying prison stints for their actions.
4. 2016 FBI hack
One Justice Department employee’s email account. That’s all it took for a hacker to become privy to every single person who works for the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. From that compromised account, he was able to download roughly 200 GB of incredibly sensitive info, like a real version of the Mission: Impossible NOC list. He then tricked a DOJ rep into giving him access to the database itself.
The names, rank, and personal information of nearly 30,000 employees who work in a very guarded profession immediately had their cover blown. Phone numbers and email addresses were made public, and the hacker stated he had credit card numbers as well. The hacks were apparently done by someone with pro-Palestine sympathies. That someone, it turns out, was a 16-year-old teenager living in England.
3. One writer at Wired has his whole life erased and all his gadgets frozen in minutes
Mat Honan was a tech writer for the Wired site in 2012. When hackers wormed their way into his Google account, he became a nobody. In the space of an hour.
At first, the hackers made eight years of email correspondences vanish. They took to Twitter next to issue homophobic slurs and racist rants, before deleting photos off of his Apple devices. They invaded every corner of his digital life. Think of every interaction or post or photo you’ve been a part of in your existence on the Internet. They thought of that too, and made him basically disappear, digitally speaking. Once his Apple ID was compromised, they remotely erased every single thing throughout all of his devices.
He could have stopped the hackers in their tracks early if he had utilized the extra layer of security Google offers (his fault), but once they started exploiting security lapses within Amazon and Apple, they were able to unleash much more damage (not his fault). Through it all, the hacker, known as Phobia, was in constant contact. Phobia still hasn’t had to pay for his actions, though investigators may be getting closer to finding out his identity.
2. OPM hack
We mentioned earlier how FBI and Department of Homeland Security personnel information was severely compromised in 2016. Well, just a year before that, another government agency found that they had been hacked. This time, it was the Office of Personnel Management, which is in charge of all the civilians working for the U.S. government.
The OPM’s IT department came across the hack first, when they noticed a bunch of forms used for background checks for their employees had been whisked away. And by a bunch, we mean millions. Oh, and they fingerprint records, too. The hack itself had been in progress for the previous two years, and the OPM was actually onto them by 2014, but allowed them to keep working to gain intelligence on them. Unfortunately for millions and millions of civilian government employees, this extra time just allowed the hackers to gain more and more clearance into the OPM’s systems. The attacks were blamed on China-backed hackers, and in 2017, a Chinese man was arrested for reasons related to the OPM hack, even though it wasn’t directly stated.
1. DNC and election hack
There has been a veritable storm of crap related to Russia and just how far they got influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It’s such an all-encompassing story and the tentacles spread so far that it’s almost impossible to wrap one’s head around the main crux of it all: that election systems in every state and the Democratic National Committee itself were hacked in 2016, and that Russian hackers were likely behind it all.
DNC servers had Russian digital fingerprints all over it, it was discovered in June that year, and had likely been compromised for almost a year. Using malware, they published documents clearly meant to turn the elections in the Republicans’ favor. It went further. Other hackers went after the election cyber infrastructure located in each state, attacking them and pulling voter registrations and sample ballots. And while it’s not clear if they were able to actually change votes, we may never know just how far the hackers made it into one of America’s most revered institutions.